Fishers Snagged: Not Farmed, Then Not Organic

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times the market for organic foods continues to grow with sales reaching US$13.8 billion in 2005 compared with US$3.6 billion in 1997.

But there’s not much ‘organic seafood’ about because of problems with definitions and also what fish eat.

Now I would have thought a wild Atlantic salmon would automatically qualify as organic. But according to the US Agriculture Department to be organic you need to be farmed: read the full story here including that: “Environmentalists rightly argue that many farm-raised fish live in cramped nets in conditions that can pollute the water, and that calling them organic is a perversion of the label. Those who catch and sell wild fish say that their products should be called organic and worry that if they are not, fish farmers will gain a huge leg up.”

, ,

31 Responses to Fishers Snagged: Not Farmed, Then Not Organic

  1. Pinxi November 29, 2006 at 8:56 am #

    US ag dept is doing all sorts of stuff to broaden the meaning and application of organic standards.

    What’s the chemical they give farmed salmon to turn its flesh from grey to salmon? Is that organic?

  2. Lamna nasus November 29, 2006 at 9:02 am #

    Hi Jen,

    Good point on farmed ‘organic’ fish, I think most of the problem with identifying ‘organic seafood’ lies with the way most industrial fishing is done. Most organic certification are not just about a lack of chemicals, they are also supposed to be designed to reflect a greater care for the environment, amongst other things.
    The only fish I currently eat is ‘line caught’ Icelandic since I know that the Icelandic fishing vessels are following a policy that should minimise bycatch, undersized fish and the massive spoilage caused by huge nets. Its expensive but its a treat anyway, so what the heck.

    Hmmmm…. I didn’t suggest sinking all Icelandic shipping… that post might be interpreted as me going soft, better grab the ol’ kevlar body armour…

  3. Lamna nasus November 29, 2006 at 9:25 am #

    Hi Pinxi,

    The artificial pigments fed to normal farmed salmon are canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, for organic fish I imagine they have found an organic substitute (still checking this) which kinda makes ya wonder why they needed the artificial ones…

    ‘The salmon struggle: A fish by any other color is just not natural.

    In a now-famous public display of ignorance, former Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth mused that salmon can’t be endangered because she buys them at the supermarket. While few citizens are as out of touch as Chenoweth, many of us have been deceived by purveyors of farmed salmon, who dye their fish pink to make it look wild.

    Wild salmon derive their color from the krill they eat in the ocean. With their artificial diet, farmed salmon are normally a dull gray color…. pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche, which manufactures the dyes, provides salmon manufacturers with swatches of pink hues arranged in a fan formation, much like one would find at a paint store. They call it the “SalmoFan.” Dye for the selected shade is then added to the salmon’s processed food pellets….

    Since 1995 FDA regulations have required labeling of dyed salmon, and so have some state laws, but these rules haven’t been much obeyed or enforced.

    Salmon manufacturers recognize the unlimited expressiveness of color. They know that a deep salmon tint inexorably calls forth visions of wild coho struggling nobly up pristine mountain streams past hungry grizzlies’ open mouths….
    So here’s an idea… Why not require that farm-raised fish be dyed a preternatural, day-glo green color, like mint ice cream or the beer at an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day? Then, let the stores label the fish as they please. Let them put up labels that say, “These bright green fish are tasty and nutritious” or “Just as good as the pink kind.”
    … would be as easy as launching a new M&M color. Let Hoffman-La Roche offer salmon farmers a choice of colors ranging from emerald to lime to deep chartreuse to Incredible Hulk…… No, Congresswoman Chenoweth, the fish aren’t naturally green.
    – Alex Roth, Seattle Post Intelligencer, May 23rd 2003

  4. Schiller Thurkettle November 29, 2006 at 9:43 am #

    People need to bear in mind that nobody has a test that can be used to determine whether or not a food in a supermarket is “organic” or not. A test you can use in a test-tube or a petri dish or something like that.

    Eco-freaks make lots of claims about various superiorities of “organic” food, but no test can detect what’s “organic” and what isn’t.

    According to organic regulations accepted around the planet, an “organic” food can have 500 percent more pesticide and herbicide residues than “conventional” food, and still be called “organic.” Same goes for antibiotic and steroid residues in beef, pork and chicken.

    Nobody tests for what is “organic,” and that is because when you buy organic, you’re just buying food politics.

    What’s more, testing has revealed that flour from organic maize often flunks tests designed to prevent aflatoxin from the food supply–a potent carcinogen.

    When science can determine whether or not a food is “organic” or not, I can rest my case. Until then, when people are buying “organic” food, they’re just buying “organic” politics.

    Anyone familiar with the white-supremacist-Aryan Nation survivalist movement in the US will easily recognize that the organic movement is the same thing, except the organic people tout butter instead of guns. The rest is the same: racial purity, down with government and corporations, live “off the net,” living off the land, self-sufficiency, and you can add the rest. (Except some want government subsidies, which is quite marvelous.)

  5. Jim November 29, 2006 at 9:46 am #

    And worst of all , farmed prawns and barra taste nowhere near as good as the real thing!

  6. Lamna nasus November 29, 2006 at 10:00 am #

    HI Pinxi,

    I spoke to soon it seems that organic salmon in the UK do not get fed organic colour supplements as such, so they are a paler pink colour but the quality of feed differs: ‘The colour of the salmon is lighter than conventional fish, due to the Soil Association requirement that only natural shrimp shells may be fed to the fish to enhance colour.’

    That excerpt is taken from this description of Scottish organic farming –

    Graig Farm’s farmed salmon from Scotland is fully organic to Soil Association Standards.

    Room to swim properly – A normal fish farm uses fairly small cages, with stocking densities of some 25 to 30 kg of fish per cubic metre; the fish supplied to Graig Farm are stocked at less than half this rate (less than 10 kg/cubic metre). At this organic stocking rate, this equates to less than 1% of the volume of the water taken up by fish. This lower stocking rate reduces stress – a common theme in all organic livestock regulations. In large cages off the coast of the Scotland, the Graig Farm fish are able to swim in the strong sea currents, and shoal naturally. In fact, the fish swim some 6,000 miles per year – almost as far as wild fish.

    No Artificial Lighting
    Non-organic salmon farmers make widespread use of artificial lighting (often 24 hours) to simulate different seasons and to manipulate the growth and development of their fish. It can be used to make young fish grow faster, or to delay sexual maturation in growing fish. Soil Association organic salmon farmers are not allowed to use artificial lighting to prolong day length beyond 16 hours, or to use artificial lighting to manipulate the development of any stage of the fishes’ lives.

    Minimal Chemicals – Intensive fish farming often requires the use of pesticides to control parasites and problems resulting from very densely stocked fish. Due to the more extensive way they are farmed, the fish from Graig Farm do not require such pesticides in their production, and indeed, the use of chemicals, growth promoters and anti-biotics in organic salmon production is not allowed in principle.

    However, as is mentioned elsewhere on our website for organic animal husbandry, treatment of sick fish within an organic system is allowed for reasons of animal welfare. However, drugs must be from a restricted list (four naturally occuring active ingredients, compared with 400 in intensive fish farming systems), and only with specific permission from the organic certifying authority, and the fish are not allowed to be sold for eating until much longer than the normal period (the ‘withdrawl period’) required elswhere. Also in line with land-based organic farming, fish cannot be sold as organic if more than three treatments have been given.

    Special Feed – The feed is from sustainable, non-GM sources. The most contentious issue is that of the use and source of fishmeal and oil. In the UK, the prefernce is for trimmings from fish factories to be used. In France (where our sea bass are farmed), they use non-human food species of fish from sustainable fisheries.

    There are no artificial colourants used. Whilst this makes for a slighly paler colour, use is made of crushed prawn shells to give sufficient pinkness to the flesh. This does however, make organic salmon fed in this way look slighly paler pink in colour.

    Environmental Impact – There are growing concerns about the detrimental environmental effects of intensive fish farming. The environmental impact of the certified organic fish from Graig Farm is minimal. A key criticism of non-organic salmon-farming is that the pens are sited permanently in sensitive marine environments and that the high stocking rates cause significant pollution on the sea-bed and surrounding area, through build-up of waste food and fish faeces. However, a recent and comprehensive report stated ‘there is no significant contribution from salmon farming to nutrient enrichment except in certain extreme cases where water exchange is very poor’.

    Soil Association standards seek to address this concern by specifying that pens can only be sited in areas subject to strong tidal flushing – i.e. movement and exchange of sea-water. Soil Association certified salmon pens are all located around Scotland’s outlying islands – the Outer Hebrides, Shetland, and the Orkneys, where tidal flows are vigorous.

    Fallow periods
    As with the practice of land-based organic farming, where rotations of crops and livestock ‘rest’ fields and help prevent any pest and disease build-up, so S.A. organic aquaculture standards specify a mandatory 6-week fallowing period after each harvesting of fish to break parasite life-cycles and to aid recovery of the sea-bed.

    Other organic certifying and non-organic salmon farming bodies have no requirement for fallowing – although the Scottish Code of Good Practice for salmon farming recommends a minimum fallow period of 4 weeks at the end of each production cycle.

    The net pens containing the salmon become colonised by a variety of seaweeds, small shellfish and other flora and fauna. In the summer, this can happen quite rapidly. Unlike non-organic farmers, Soil Association organic farmers are not permitted to use toxic antifoulant chemicals (for example copper) to keep their nets clear. They must only use physical methods of cleaning them.

  7. Lamna nasus November 29, 2006 at 10:04 am #

    I see Thurkettle has been at the ketamine again…

  8. Travis November 29, 2006 at 11:02 am #

    ‘Anyone familiar with the white-supremacist-Aryan Nation survivalist movement in the US will easily recognize that the organic movement is the same thing’

    Schiller that is a terrible comment to make. I wonder who the “supremist” here is?

  9. Ian Mott November 29, 2006 at 11:10 am #

    Why don’t they just re-label wild fish as “Free Range” fish? Ditto for free range sheep and cattle. That would put the focus, rightly, back onto the “caged” fish and animals.

    I also prefer “Free Range Forest” products from my multi species native forest of local genotypes to “Battery Forest Monocultures” grown in plantations by cashed up urban tax dodgers.

    My wildlife neighbours and guests thinks so too.

  10. Schiller Thurkettle November 29, 2006 at 11:10 am #

    Well, Lamna and Travis,

    You have once again revealed your powers of reason and come up with a cogent analysis. Awesome.

  11. Travis November 29, 2006 at 11:27 am #

    And Schiller you have once again responded to form. Pathetic.

    Ian, your idea seems to make some sense.

  12. Pinxi November 29, 2006 at 1:17 pm #

    ‘Anyone familiar with the white-supremacist-Aryan Nation survivalist movement in the US will easily recognize that the organic movement is the same thing’

    Clearly I’m not familiar enough with this movement. Will you please outline the parallels for me Schiller?

  13. Robert November 29, 2006 at 1:21 pm #

    As a frequent visitor to Japan, where seafood has long dominated the national diet, a distinction is made between natural fish “ten-nen” and farmed “youshoku” fish. The former usually command a higher price and taste much better. Generally the oil in farmed fish has a rancid aroma compared to natural fish of the same species. However, natural fish, especially the oilier ones like salmon and mackeral, often contain parasites and need to be cooked thoroughly.

  14. Russell November 29, 2006 at 3:48 pm #

    Inherent in most responses is the assumption that aquaculture produced animals are invariably inferior to wild caught stocks and that the conditions under which aquaculture species are produced somehow makes it better for us as consumers to target the free range species.
    I have some problems with this.
    Firstly, most free range species are currently fished at, or above their sustainable yields and Starck’s views aside, it is clear that world wild fish stocks are under increasing pressure. Therefore it would seem that the only way to meet increasing demand for fish is through aquaculture and so from a sustainability prespective we ought to be examing ways to improve the conditions under which aquaculture species are produced and the quality of product. I have a lot of problems with the view that aquaculture can provide the necessary increase in protein without a lot of other environmental problems but that is another issue.
    There is also an inherent assumption that wild caught fish stocks are somehow better for you, because they are from the wild. Any examination of wild stocks anywhere on earth will demonstrate that many species are very efficient bioaccumulators and capture a wide variety of contaminants, including organic and inorganic chemicals. Even in pristine areas of the world the levels of some of these contaminants exceeds what is safe to eat, and in the waters receiving a lot of pollutants it can is obvious eating the local seafood can be unhealthy.
    On the issue of the word “organic” I often struggle with the way this word is applied to food – after all, in essence all food is mostly comprised of organic molecules and and the distinction applied is simply one over how they were assembled.
    Incidentally Ian, while living in Germany I used to buy a local honey that was “made by free-flying bees”.

  15. Robert November 29, 2006 at 5:20 pm #

    I don’t agree that most posts in this blog claim that farmed fish are better for you than wild ones. There is a consensus that wild stock taste better – that’s a fact. However, farmed stock are fed with protein derived from wild stock anyway – notably sardines. Farmed stock therefore must also accumulate hazardous chemicals, though the accumulation can be monitored and to some extent controlled.

  16. david@tokyo November 29, 2006 at 6:15 pm #

    I concur with Robert – my understanding is that here in Japan “free range” fish demand higher prices on the markets.
    (I personally would prefer to eat such fish over farmed stuff as well, but can’t always demand such a luxury. my preference is more in terms of animal welfare though).

    Russell, you state that “most free range species are currently fished at, or above their sustainable yields”.

    Many fish stocks are currently regarded as “over-exploited”, but my understanding of that free range species are currently fished at rates that are actually below their MSY levels, not above. I.e., the true MSY level of many of these over-exploited stocks is higher than current levels of catch, but pressure needs to be taken off these stocks to allow them to rebuild back to their MSY levels. Of course, it was fishing at rates higher than the MSY level – overexploitation – that got us into this position. We have been too greedy in the past, so we need to pay it back now in order to reap more benefits again in the future.

    So from a sustainability prespective, the “free range” fish space is to get governments to take meaningful actions to really bring about such change.

    Ironically, today we have a situation where the IWC has a moratorium on commercial whaling, and even if it didn’t it wouldn’t consider setting catch limits for any stock below 54% of it’s estimated carrying capacity. If such criteria were applied to many other fisheries, they would have to be shut down immediately. Some whale stocks are also recognised to be above this 54% protection level.
    It’s interesting to observe the actions of various nations in recent times regarding scientific advice to cut Tuna catch levels. Many nations who support the commercial whaling moratorium have refused to consider taking a break from Tuna fishing to allow stocks recover, and are in some cases reluctant to even accept significant reductions in catch quotas. Australia for example continues to permit it’s citizens to exploit the Southern Bluefin Tuna, regarded by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered”, and I read in the news that anti-whaling France was behind pressure at the latest ICCAT meeting against catch reductions. Ironically, whaling nations Norway was one of the nations supporting scientific advice that catch should be reduced to 15,000 tonnes.

    Such governments as these need to be shamed internationally to make their citizens sit up and demand that they do the right thing in terms of long-term conservation rather than pandering to the short-term interests of their fishing industries.

  17. Lamna nasus November 29, 2006 at 9:54 pm #

    ‘Why don’t they just re-label wild fish as “Free Range” fish?..’ – Ian Mott

    Crikey! I actually agree with something Motty has posted… maybe world peace is achievable.

  18. Lamna nasus November 29, 2006 at 9:57 pm #

    David, your mania for commercial whaling is reaching tipping point, leave it on the applicable thread harpoon boy…

  19. Russell November 30, 2006 at 2:06 am #

    Here is a link to the data from the FAO 2004 Status of global fishery stocks assessment

    I said most were at, or over the MSY and the data presented by FAO support that…its basically about 75%. If only we could get a reduction in fishery effort to allow stocks to recover, then you are right, the MSY would increase, but that does not look like happening anytime soon.

  20. Schiller Thurkettle November 30, 2006 at 3:08 am #

    Since we’re told DDT and PCBs are in everything everywhere, why don’t folks just give up and say it’s impossible to find organic food anywhere?

  21. Lamna nasus November 30, 2006 at 4:18 am #

    ‘Since we’re told DDT and PCBs are in everything everywhere, why don’t folks just give up and say it’s impossible to find organic food anywhere?’ – Schiller

    Because ‘folks’ don’t take Thurkettle’s ramblings as he staggers up the centre of the road swearing at passing traffic seriously?….

  22. Schiller Thurkettle November 30, 2006 at 6:54 am #


    Didn’t you know that wireless access was designed for people like me? Unfortunately, I lose the signal when I stagger more than 200 feet from home.

    But even as I stagger and type, I can also engage a topic more incisively than remarking on the manner of another’s gait.

  23. Lamna nasus November 30, 2006 at 8:24 am #

    Hey Thurkettle you’ve got a sense of humour, you should demonstrate it more often and leave the conspiracy theories alone. :o)

  24. Schiller Thurkettle November 30, 2006 at 10:02 am #


    When there’s collective action, we call it “grass roots,” or “conspiracy,” or “demon corporation,” or “coalition,” or “rogue government,” and all sorts of other things. The Good Book also speaks of “when two or more are gathered…”

    There’s too much money in play on issues like this to think that there aren’t some foul hegemonies; some marriages are made in Hell, rather than Heaven.

    One of the biggest, best-funded activist groups in the USA that promotes “food security” is actually a front for trade protectionism, for instance.

    You might be surprised to learn that public perceptions are for sale. In the USA, the NRDC is actually a wing of an advertising firm. Yes, that’s the PR firm that bankrupted farmers just to sell a book authored by a client.

    You figure it out.

  25. Ian Mott November 30, 2006 at 12:02 pm #

    Lamna Nasus, I have sussed out that nasus is Susan written backwards but must assume that Lamna is an anagram. In any event we can conclude that “backwards” has some sort of poetic symbolism here.

  26. Russell November 30, 2006 at 3:29 pm #

    The most likely word would be Alman
    So “Susan Alman”?

  27. rog November 30, 2006 at 6:00 pm #

    A boy named Sue?

    How do you do!

  28. Lamna nasus December 1, 2006 at 4:47 am #

    ‘The Good Book also speaks of “when two or more are gathered…” – Schiller

    Your a regligious fundamentalist as well Thurkettle?…. that figures…

  29. Lamna nasus December 1, 2006 at 4:53 am #

    Motty have you been at Thurkettle’s bottle of Ol Conspiracy (only the best peyote used)??
    Anagram shmamagram, As George pointed out some time back I ain’t female and my name isn’t Susan.. although I don’t see anything wrong with real men being in touch with their feminine side…. :o)

  30. jonny238 December 6, 2006 at 3:44 pm #


  31. Deb Guildner June 23, 2007 at 1:47 pm #

    Hey! there,

    No amount of obfuscation or pontification will suffice in determining what if any contaminants are present in anything and everything.

    You have to test it!

    Then see what if anything you can do to reduce the contaminant. Can you identify the source of the contamination? Etc etc. It’s elementary! (Or is it yellow manta ray?).

    Let me know when you’re done. But remeber what goes around, somes around. What goes in must come out. And you are what you eat. Have you been tested lately? Well then, don’t eat yourself, and better think twice before breeding! Perhaps a little detox is required……

    I have spoken. Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

    Have fun,


Website by 46digital