Farmed salmon is good for you! Eat up!

Wesley Harris
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Jennifer Caines has answers for the naysayers

Over the next two weeks the Coaster will carry an interview with Jennifer Caines, the project manager with Northern Harvest Sea Farms, about the benefits of eating raised salmon. Ms. Caines is seen here holding a farmed salmon raised by Northern Harvest Sea Farms.

Over the last number of years the Coaster staff has heard many negative comments about the farmed salmon and the aquaculture industry itself, an industry that is the mainstay of economic development in the Coast of Bays. Wesley Harris, a Coaster correspondent, asked Jennifer Caines, the project manager with Northern Harvest Sea farms NL Ltd. (Pool’s Cove) for the past ten years, to respond to those comments. Ms. Caines, who has a Master’s Degree in biology, has been involved in aquaculture since the 1980s.

The interview with Caines will be carried in two parts in our September 6 and 12 issues.

Question 1 :I won’t eat the salmon.  They are fed those pellets.  God knows what’s in   them. 

Response: That’s too bad because I think those people are really missing out   on something good for them  -­‐ and something that I’m proud Newfoundland and Labrador produces   right here.    I’ve always loved salmon  (my honeymoon was a salmon   fishing trip!)  And I try to eat as much as I can, because it tastes good but   also because it’s so good for me.  

 As a biologist, I pay attention to proper   scientific studies, and consider the source on questionable ones, especially when it comes to my health and nutrition and there’s no   question that farmed salmon is among the best sources of protein and the   ‘good’ fats  (the omega-­‐3’s) there is.    

The feed itself is made of natural   products of the highest quality and approved for use by the Canadian   Food Inspection Agency.    The fish protein and oils come from well- managed fisheries  (such as anchovies and mackerel and other species   which may not be great for eating  – for example too bony).    The feed   companies have also been successful in incorporating vegetable, poultry   and fish offal sources of protein and oils, helping the industry to reduce   reliance on forage fish.  

 With the world’s population growing, we should   all use our resources responsibly.    Essential vitamins and minerals are   also added to the mix, and carotene-like pigments that are needed for   good fish health.    Growth hormones are not added to salmon feed.    I   recently visited the Skretting mill in NB where the feed for Northern   Harvest’s fish is made.    The raw ingredients, fully traceable right back to   their source, are carefully monitored and measured, mixed at specific   temperatures and extruded as pellets  – the size of the pellet needed   changes with the size of the fish.    The cleanliness and strict control over   the process of manufacturing requires just as much care as   manufacturing food for people.    Put it this way  -­‐ my dog loves a few   pellets if she gets a chance at them  – and I wouldn’t let her eat anything I   thought would harm her!  

Question 2: Is this any different from how our chicken and cattle are fed for the   market?    

Response: Salmon are fed a balanced diet that contains the combinations   of protein, fat and carbohydrates that are specifically right for them  - similar to a healthy balance in good human nutrition.    

The composition   may vary with the stage of the fish  – for example, young fish need more   protein than older fish, so there is a slightly higher percentage of protein   in the smaller pellets.    The poultry and pork industries use fishmeal and   oils too, requiring 2 - 4 kg of feed of diet to produce 1 kg of product.    Cattle   need up to 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.    Salmon are actually   among the most efficient animals worldwide at converting their feed to   flesh, using only 1.2 - 1.4 kg to produce 1 kg.      

Our fish are raised in large, very deep nets, and they have lots of room  – even when they are fully   grown over 95% of their cage is  ’free space’.    Depending on their age, they   are fed up to several times a day until they’re full  (using underwater   cameras to determine this), and, depending on various factors, including   market demands, humanely harvested after about 1 1⁄2 - 2 years.    They’re processed locally within hours of coming out of the water and generally year round so there’s a steady supply of fresh, high-quality product.  

Question 3:  Are dyes added to make the meat pink?  

Response: No dyes at all  - only carotenoids   like the natural pigments found in lobster and shrimp shells that are actually protective antioxidants.      Salmon need these to maintain a   healthy immune system, and they are what give them their characteristic   orange/pink color.      

Question 4:  They use a lot of antibiotics and other drugs on those fish.  Who know   what’s the long term effect of this?      

Response: Not true. Farmed salmon commonly grow to maturity without any antibiotics at all, and antibiotic use on   salmon farms is now far lower than that of any other agricultural animal   producing industry in the world.  In contrast, poultry and other animals   may have antibiotics in their diet for most of their entire lives; yet they   are safe and healthy proteins.    

Antibiotic use in salmon farming is strictly controlled by veterinarians using prescribed products, for diagnosed conditions only and strict residue tolerance limits are controlled by the   Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which maintains among the safest food   inspection systems in the world.  

Question 5: They don’t taste at all like the wild Atlantic salmon.  Can people really tell   the difference?  If they were given a taste test, would they pass?      

Response: I actually  quit salmon fishing since it’s been just catch-and-release so it’s been a   long time since I’ve eaten wild Atlantic salmon.    I find farmed fish taste   the same as I remember the wild ones tasting.  Unfortunately there’s no   longer any commercial fishery for Atlantic salmon in Canada.

Taste tests  show most people cannot tell any difference and often people prefer   farmed salmon  – it’s more consistently moist and may contain more   heart-healthy omega-3 fats than wild fish, which may be drier than   farmed fish.  I guess some people prefer one texture to the other, but   both are great sources of the  ’good’ kinds of fats important to brain   development in children and heart health in everyone.    I find it’s easier to   cook too  – I find I can do more with it because it’s not as dry.    Years ago   we were used to salmon fried to a crisp or boiled to pieces but now I am   trying many different recipes.    I love the texture when it’s cooked just   right  – soft but still catches on your teeth when you bite in.    My sister, always a salmon connoisseur, comes home from Ontario in August to go   on her  ’bear’ diet  – blueberries and salmon!    No question that it gets her seal of approval.    Also, because of my work, I get to serve salmon to many   visitors who have tasted salmon from farms all over the world  – and they   all absolutely rave about ours.      Our fish pass with an A+!  



Organizations: NL, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Geographic location: Bays, Newfoundland and Labrador, NB Atlantic Canada Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Johannes Roelofs
    February 14, 2013 - 16:35

    I wonder how long farmed salmon will be good enough to eat. It's true that If you look at old (say 10 years ago) studies, farmed atlantic salmon were pretty good, even higher in fish oil Omega-3 (EPA and DHA) than wild fish. Farmed salmon use to come in at 2-3% Omega-3, wild at about 1%. The ever increasing replacement of fish oil in feed with terrestrial oil has resulted in a not surprising commensurate drop in Omega-3 in farmed salmon. Recent "proper scientific" studies in Norway (Jensen, I.J. et al, Farmed Atlantic salmon is a good source of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, 2012) and in Canada (Dewailly, E, 2012, Risk and benefits from consuming salmon and trout: A Canadian perspective) have farmed salmon Omega-3 content at 1.03% and 0.855% respectively, up to a threefold decline in 10 years! Omega-6, of course, is way up. Doctors are becoming concerned that farmed salmon contributes to, not reduces coronary heart disease. (Harald Arnesen for example and Midtabo, L.K., 2013 for mice studies)

  • Ross Strickland
    September 08, 2011 - 19:15

    Very interesting article. I like to mention Astaxanthin which is found in salmon is a carotenoid, known as the king of carotenoids. It’s also the nutrient that gives flamingos, salmon and shrimp their pink color. It is a super antioxidant which reduces cell damage in humans and also a powerful anti-inflammatory. Wild salmon are rich in Astaxanthin. Because astaxanthin offers such potent antioxidant capabilities, many researchers are excited about its potential to boost the immune system and prevent or even reverse a variety of diseases, including carpel tunnel syndrome, ulcers, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer. If one likes to workout it also increases muscle strength. I assume if you give farmed salmon shrimp products farmed salmon would contain Astaxanthin. You mentioned arytenoids for pigment, rather than Astaxanthin. Is that a misprint or are arytenoids similar to Astaxanthin? Anyway you look at it salmon is a super healthy food

    • Ross Strickland
      Ross Strickland
      September 09, 2011 - 09:15

      Forgive me for my ignorance concerning artyenoids, had to add pigment to query to get information and I discovered it has many of the same health benefits as Astaxanthin. Nice to see the truth about local farmed salmon and how healthy it is. We are lucky to have access to fresh farmed salmon in the Coast of Bays. I cook it by preheating the oven to 400 degrees, and I put it on a pizza pan with absolutely nothing on the fillet and cook it for a about 15 minutes. Beats any fancy salmon receipe I've tried.

    • K.T. Pirquet
      September 09, 2011 - 11:35

      Not sure whether it's a typo, Ross, but it's carotenoids, NOT "arytenoids". And the feed mill is Skretting, not "Strutting", for the record. The "dye in farmed salmon" myth has persisted for years, promoted through a constant stream of misinformation from environmentalist NGOs hugely supported by US non-profit funders with an agenda; there has never been dye in farmed salmon. Thanks for the detailed, correct info. Good interview, but Mr. Harris needs an editor.

  • Donovan Brewster
    September 07, 2011 - 22:22

    Perhaps you might have asked her about the myriad of negative effects the farming of Atlantic salmon has been having on the wild Pacific salmon. The fish farming industry should confine their salmon to tanks as it has been demonstrated repeatedly that the presence of these farms is destroying the wild fish due to the proximity to natural salmon runs. Norwegian owned companies are here doing this in BC because they already destroyed their own natural salmon stocks at home. Alexandra Morton is a hero for her efforts to curb this horrific destruction that is being brought about by this industry.

    • Chuck Anderson
      September 09, 2011 - 10:11

      Mr. Brewster is entitled to his opinion. My opinion is that farmed salmon have little or no negative impact on wild salmon, except that abundant farmed salmon reduce the market price for all salmon. My opinion is that most of the negative spin about salmon farming today is just an attempt to prop up wild salmon prices and no more. The science just ins't there to vilify farmed salmon anymore. The benefits of farmed salmon significantly outweigh any negatives. I encourage Mr. Brewster and others to work to make salmon farming more responsible and more sustainable. It is conscientious people like Mr. Brewster that have helped push the aquaculture industry to become the model of efficiency and social responsibility it is today. The industry can certainly continue to improve further, and it will. I also love wild salmon. It is delicious, but I find most wild salmon are inferior to farmed salmon in terms of taste and moisture after cooking.