The currency of Salmonopoly

Why is salmon farming such an object of infinite greed? One of the reasons is the presumed rich source of omega-3-fatty acids in salmon.

Although omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) have been known as essential to normal growth and health since the 1930s, awareness of their health benefits – and thus their demand – has dramatically increased since the 1990s. But mammals – including humans – cannot synthesize n−3 fatty acids, one of the reasons why we – the older generation – were given (horribly tasting) cod liver supplements in our childhood.

Some of the important and well known omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • EPA: eicosapentaenoic acid, 20 carbons and 5 double bonds
  • DHA: docosahexaenoic acid, 22 carbons and 6 double bonds
  • ALA: α-linolenic acid, 18 carbons and 3 double bonds

In 2004 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave “qualified health claim” status to EPA and DHA n−3 fatty acids, stating that “supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

The supplementation of Omega-3 might be beneficial in cases of

  • certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins
  • high blood pressure
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • high blood triglyceride levels

Their regular intake may reduce the risk of secondary and primary heart attack.
They can be helpful in cases of depression and may delay or prevent the progression of certain psychotic disorders in high-risk children and adolescents.
They possess possible anti-cancer effects.

After herring and sardine [1.3–2 grams omega-3] and Spanish mackerels [1.1–1.7 grams omega-3], Atlantic and Pacific salmon is a valuable source of omega-3 (EPA and DHA) [1.1–1.9 grams]. Some seeds like perilla, chia, flax (linseed) and hemp contain high amounts of omega-3 (ALA) while cereals, bread, vegetables contain none. Fish oils are sometimes added to diets of chicken to increase the n-3 fatty acid concentrations in eggs.

Sounds like a license to print endless amounts of money. Sounds tempting and easy to achieve in the (seemingly) endless waters of our blue planet.

BUT – the other side of the coin shows: farmed salmon is poor in valuable omega-3 and

  • it is full of fat soluble chemicals like PCBs which are used to paint and protect the cages from corrosion and which are omnipresent in the sea water anyway
  • it is rich in antibiotics (which are used in high amounts to make them survive in salmon-unfriendly environments)
  • it is contaminated with pharmaceuticals from vaccines (like the one given to humans against cholera)
  • it is contaminated with chemicals to wash off sea lice and other parasites very harmful to salmon
  • it is polluted with a red dye to make the pale flesh look like wild salmon
  • it is rich in stress hormones and the likes from a “life” in cages, in too warm water and a much too dense population

So this Omega-fairy tale reminds more of another omega: In the Book of Revelation, it reads “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” (verses 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13).

This meaning of omega is found in the fact that alpha (Α) and omega (Ω) are respectively the first and last letters of the Classical (Ionic) Greek alphabet. This would be similar to referring to someone in English as the “A and Z”. ‘Omega’ also means ‘the end’.

The GREED to ‘harvest‘ unhealthy omega-3 must not lead to three serious omegas like those to be seen in other places where this particular global player which is applying to exploit Bantry Bay left DEVASTATION, DISEASE and DEATH (of diving workers servicing the salmon tanks).

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3 thoughts on “The currency of Salmonopoly

  1. Keep up the good work. I have seen the film about all that as happened in Chile. The same industry has wiped out the sea trout stocks and valuable tourist angling industry in Connemara.We have been out of business for the past 20 years! Ten t years ago the ISGA told us of their delight to go to Chile where there were no wild fisheries or Fisheries Boards to contend with – now we see the mess they have created. Keep then out of Bantry Bay!

  2. Here by way of example are the results for the third quarter 2011, available on the website of http://www.griegseafood.no, a Norwegian producer of farmed salmon:

    “Operating profit before fair value adjustments was a loss of NOK 30.7m, against a profit of NOK 105.1m last year. The strong increase in supply continued in the third quarter and has led to a further decline in salmon prices in all markets. […]. Cost of fish harvested was high in the third quarter as previously indicated. In both of the Norwegian regions the harvested fish had a low average weight which resulted in a corresponding high cost. In Shetland the cost of fish harvested was especially high for the weak 2009 (fall) generation which was harvested out in July.”

    “The strong supply growth of salmon was maintained throughout the third quarter. This had led to further reductions in the price of farmed salmon […] The price development in the salmon market is clearly supply driven. Good growth conditions and an increase in the number of smolt entered to sea have also resulted in higher production in most fish farming regions. Simultaneous growth in production in Norway and Chile will also result in a further increase in supply in 2012 compared with the previous year. With the exception of Chile, the capacity utilisation is likely to be at a very high level in the period ahead, and unless new licences are issued this will limit supply growth in a more long-term perspective.”

    Therefore, although the price of salmon is falling due to oversupply of the market – and will continue if people become aware of what they are putting into their plates – the solution proposed by the fish farming industry is to increase production even more so as to consequently increase demand (which goes against the basics I learned about how the economy works, but then I’m no expert) and, thus, ultimately be able to maintain prices on the market while of course simultaneously cutting production costs (increased automation and higher density of fish in cages – see the “increase in the number of smelt entered to sea” mentioned above) to increase profits. Additionally, their marketing department will be seeking new markets and encourage “new eating habits and a focus on healthy eating” to promote demand.

    Hence the need for fish farming corporations to seek new locations for their production sites resp. new licenses, which are harder to get nowadays in Norway and more restrictive in terms of regulations. By increasing production, they hope to increase demand. But this is risky if the consumers find out the truth about how the fish is farmed and the impact of this industry as regards animal welfare and human welfare, the environment, the resulting quality of the product etc. If people decide not to believe the claims of the marketing departments of fish farming corporations and chose to boycott the product, the entire system would collapse because the strategy is not based on, or driven by, demand but simply assumes demand will follow supply. I know this works in certain industries (there was no demand for i-Pads before they were invented and became available, so their supply created demand) but are there any economists out there who could explain how this works with fish specifically?

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