Prominent author's ill-considered pledge to “swear off wild Salmon” is wholly unjustified and utterly counterproductive
by Randy Hartnell
When it comes to defending the world’s limited wild Salmon stocks, we take our responsibilities seriously.
All our flash-frozen and canned wild Salmon come from Alaskan waters. These fisheries are in very good condition, as we reported last November (See “Alaskan Salmon Get Re-Certified as Sustainable”).
Much of our canned Sockeye Salmon comes from Canadian fisheries in British Columbia that are undergoing review for independent certification of their sustainability, with some coming from Alaska.
Sadly, the Sockeye and Pink Salmon from certain rivers in British Columbia are threatened, so we refuse to purchase these fish.
The survival of wild Salmon is important both because they provide superior nutrition and pleasure to people, but also because these fish form the base of a food chain that sustains people and animals throughout the Northwest region
Today, the author of an opinion essay in The New York Times proposed abstinence from all wild Salmon as the solution.
But this approach is both uninformed and irrational and would be egregiously counterproductive.
The opinion essay, titled “Sardines with Your Bagel?,” was penned by freelance writer Taras Grescoe, author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.
Unfortunately, Mr. Grescoe seems to have gone off the deep end, metaphorically speaking.
We would not feel the need to refute his misguided proposition if not for the attention paid to Op-Ed essays in the Times, and this one's potential to harm wild Salmon and the people who harvest it sustainably.
New York Times opinion piece violates author’s own premise
Taras Grescoe cites three reasons to abstain from Alaskan wild Salmon:
- The near-extinction of wild Atlantic Salmon in Europe over the past two decades
- Similar threats to some of Canada’s major Pink Salmon runs
- The collapse of California’s King Salmon runs last fall
But as sad (and mysterious) as the California situation is, the West coast Salmon fishery accounts for only five percent of the North American wild Salmon harvest and has no bearing on the Alaskan fisheries.
In fact, boycotting wild Alaskan Salmon would harm this thriving, certified sustainable fishery and encourage its replacement with eco-damaging Salmon farms and gold mines.
These excerpts from his New York Times article reflect the essence of Mr. Grescoe’s position:
- “Salmon—so low in saturated fats, so high in brain-protective omega-3 fatty acids—was that rarest of commodities: a guilt-free, heart-healthy self-indulgence, and one of the cleanest forms of protein around.
- “Not any more. Wild Atlantic salmon are commercially extinct, and runs of Pacific salmon south of the Alaska panhandle are experiencing catastrophic collapses. This year, for the sake of the remaining wild salmon on the West Coast, as well as my own health, I’m changing my diet. Whether it’s wild or farmed, I’m swearing off salmon.”
Yet, as the introduction to a recent Salon.com interview makes clear, the position that Mr. Grescoe took in today’s NYT opinion piece violates his earlier, sounder advice (Pasulka N 2008):
“The portrait he paints is grim: oceanic dead zones that, because of pollution and overfishing, can no longer support organic life; Salmon farms polluted by pesticides and disease; ruthless bottom trawlers with nets that can destroy entire ecosystems.
“A warning is not a death sentence, however. The book empowers consumers to ask the right questions—if the halibut is from the Atlantic or Pacific, for instance, and whether the lobster pasta is actually made from monkfish, which is endangered. And asking these questions will make it possible to enjoy seafood for years to come.”
In other words, Mr. Grescoe previously urged consumers to choose seafood carefully, but is now recommending a reckless, irrational boycott of all wild Salmon.
Mr. Grescoe takes this position even though he must know full well that every major environmental organization—from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute to the Marine Stewardship Council—deems Alaska’s wild Salmon fisheries fully sustainable.
For more on the sustainability of wild Alaskan Salmon—and links to these seafood-savvy organizations—see our Sustainability page.
My response to Taras Grescoe’s egregious New York Times essay
I submitted the following comment in response to Mr. Grescoe’s article, and it appears as comment number 31 here:
31. EDITORS' SELECTIONS
June 9th, 2008 12:57 pm
[It’s] great that the insanity of the willful destruction of wild salmon runs in British Columbia is getting its deserved coverage, but avoiding all salmon as the author suggests certainly doesn't help wild salmon.
Avoiding wild salmon from healthy runs in Alaska amounts to swearing off one of the healthiest remaining foods on earth, and undermines all those working hard to do things the right way.
The fishers, families and communities that rely upon the wild Alaska salmon industry are among the wild salmon resource’s most vocal advocates. They are the ones fighting the oil and mining industries to protect the salmon habitat.
The take away message should be: to save wild salmon one must choose to eat wild salmon (from sustainable Alaskan fisheries).
As for the cost issue, farmed salmon is cheaper but it's a false economy. Factor in the nutritional, environmental and social costs and farmed salmon is no deal. Visit www.callingfromthecoast.com for the rest of the story.
Randy Hartnell, Bellingham, WA
You may wish to peruse similar critiques of Mr. Grescoe’s position, which appear as comments number 1, 7, 11, 27, 29, 30, and 33, starting here.
Frankly, there is no logic or substance to Mr. Grescoe’s decision to abstain from all wild Salmon.
As should be obvious to him, a boycott of Alaskan Salmon will only harm the state’s certified sustainable fisheries, and enhance the efforts of those who'd rather see wild Salmon make way for Salmon farms and gold mines, both of which would threaten Alaska's coastal ecosystem and its irreplaceable wild Salmon runs.
- Grescoe T. Sardines with Your Bagel? The New York Times, June 9, 2008. Accessed online June 9, 2008 at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/opinion/09grescoe.html
- Pasulka N. Drop that salmon! Salon.com, April 29, 2008. Accessed online June 9, 2008 at http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/04/29/bottomfeeder/