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+!