The Esperanza in Chignik Alaska

by Mike Hagler

July 6, 2007

G’day.   Mike again, your roving Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans campaiger from on board the Esperanza in Alaska.  

After the Independence Day celebrations with the residents of Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, we’ve sailed for about 20 hours through some stunning scenery along the Gulf of Alaska coast. Along the way we passed one particular area that appeared to just be teeming with marine life including a couple of dozen or more humpbacks trailing out in a long procession for what seemed about a mile (2.5 kms).  Everyone was on deck taking photos when skipper Pete Wilcox came out and reminded us that "the Japanese whalers are planning to kill about 150 of those down in the Southern Ocean come December"

What a come down.    A while later we came across a small group of fin whales (or finback whales) one of the rorquals, a family that includes the humpback whales we’d seen earlier, blue whale, Bryde’s whale, sei whale, and minke whale. Rorquals all have a dorsal fin and throat grooves that expand when the animal is feeding. The fin is second only to the blue whale in size and weight. Among the fastest of the great whales, it is capable of bursts of speed of up to 23 mph (37 km/hr) leading to its description as the "greyhound of the sea."   Fin whales are baleen whales that feed mainly on small shrimp-like creatures called krill and schooling fish.

After the all night sail, we arrived in the fishing village of Chignik at about 7 am.  Located on the Alaska Peninsula, about 450 miles southwest of Anchorage, Chignik consists of predominately Alaskan Native or part Native community members.   A couple of fishing boats cruised by with some deckhands on board who made it abundantly clear that they were not too happy with our presence.  But then, a couple of other boats of salmon fishermen pulled right up alongside and began chatting with the crew, talking about those damned draggers and how bad they are for the sea bed and the marine life.    We talked with fishermen about the Greenpeace fisheries campaign, explaining away the myth, which corporate types in the fishing industry just love to propogate, ‘Greenpeace is out to stop all fishing’!   Nothing could be further from the truth.   We just want to see the fishing become sustainable and provide good jobs for good people indefinitely.   A lot of the people we’ve been talking to on our journey so far say that’s what they want to.

The fisherfolk in Chignik were feeling a wee bit dissapointed today because the fish and game administrators had put a two day closure on the salmon purse seining to ensure that enough breeders get through to the rivers and spawn new salmon up in the headwaters.   Makes sense and the fishermen didn’t seem too fussed.  How’s the salmon running? I wanted to know.  Not many out there this year, apparently.  Fishing’s not so good.

What was really bugging them, though, is the fact that they’re only being paid 70 cents (US) a pound for the red salmon they’re catching and, on the other hand, spending about $2.50 a gallon for grade two diesel fuel.   Costs are up, prices are down.  Hard to make a living.   There was a time when a pound of salmon fetched well over $2.50 a pound.   

 But, why are prices so low? I wanted to know. "It’s that darned farmed salmon" was the consensus opinion.

Farmed salmon, including Atlantic and Pacific varieties, is the basis of a two billion dollar a year global industry pumping out more than 2.6 million tons of the stuff in 2006.  Norway is the the world’s biggest producer, followed closely by chile at number two.  Other big producers include the UK (especially Scotland), Canada, the USA, Australia, Ireland and various others, including Japan and New Zealand.     If you’ve tried farmed and wild caught salmon, I’m sure you’ll agree that wild caught salmon has it all over the farmed garbage (must be all the chemicals and antibiotics they pump into the farmed stuff).

Unfortunately, most aquaculture projects that produce high value species such as salmon or shrimp exert numerous and substantial pressures on the environment.   Farmed carnivorous species (flesh eaters) such as salmon and shrimp currently require fish oil and fishmeal in their feed and these are derived from other wild caught fish. For example the total amount of wild fish used to produce one tonne of farmed salmon is between 2.7 and 3.5 tonnes. To give an idea of scale, between 1985 and 1995 the world’s shrimp farmers used 36 million tonnes of wild fish to produce just 7.2 million tons of shrimp. In general, carnivorous species require 2.5 – 5 times as much fish as feed as is produced out the other end.   What’s wrong with this picture?  

In many parts of the world, aquaculture developments, particularly for shrimp, have been developed at enormous cost to coastal communities. Resulting social problems include decreased food security and poverty, the displacement of communities and landlessness, pollution of drinking water and poor working conditions with detrimental impacts on health and education.  

Excess food and untreated wastes enter the environment so elevating the nutrient levels and resulting in algal blooms and subsequent oxygen depletion causing habitat destruction and cascading negative ecological effects.   

Diseases can spread from farmed fish or shellfish to wild populations, further depleting wild stocks. Chemicals from aquaculture feed, antibiotics and pesticides used for disease control enter the local environment and may also enter the food chain of end consumers.   

Building fish or shellfish farms can damage surrounding habitats. The destruction of vast tracts of mangrove forests cut down to make way for shrimp farms is an obvious example.  

The introduction of non-native or genetically engineered organisms into the wider marine environment may impact on local wild populations – escapes of farmed fish from sea cages are common.

In short, some forms of aquaculture, especially salmon and shrimp farming, are really bad for the environment and people.

The unsustainable practices associated with the farming of salmon and shrimp is not the way forward.  

Instead, Greenpeace supports aquaculture that is sustainable.  Sustainable aquaculture is the production of seafood that:
·    does not result in negative environmental impacts in terms of discharges/effluents to the surrounding environment, require harmful habitat alterations, cause negative effects to local wildlife or cause a risk to local wild populations;
·    cultivates species that do not require fish meal/oil or have fish oil/meal conversion ratios of less than one, or the feed originates from sustainable sources and/or is using alternative sources of omega 3 (algal derivates, grape seed oils etc);
·    does not deplete local resources and is energy efficient;
·    does not threaten human health; and,
·    supports the long-term economic and social well-being of local communities.

It’s a simple formula and, come to think of it,  not unlike some of our ideas for sustainable fisheries.



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