The average American eats about 15 pounds of seafood per year, and over two pounds of that is salmon (for comparison sake, we eat about 4 pounds of shrimp and 2 pounds of canned tuna). As far as salmon, 70% of the salmon we consume is farmed. While farmed salmon has gotten a bad rap, it’s time for that to stop. As is the case with any type of farming, there are great farms and there are problematic farms. In short: there is plenty of farmed salmon you can feel good about.
In fact, due to salmon’s popularity, salmon aquaculture is one of the most exciting and spaces. It’s where innovations happen first: from monitoring technology to novel feed formulations; from fish health advances to land-based fish farms. Farmed salmon has become one of our most resource efficient and healthiest animal proteins on the planet.
Some particularly impressive news comes from Norway, where LoveTheWild sources salmon from a stand-out, third-generation, family-run farm. Over the last 30 years, the focus on growing healthy fish has reduced the use of antibiotics by 99%, while the amount of fish produced has continued to grow:
Source: NORM/NORM-VET 2016. Cold water vibriosis vaccine (1987) and Furunculosis vaccine (1992)
To ensure the health of the fish (and we the people consuming it), Norway requires farms to report data weekly to the government on escapes, sea lice and disease. It’s a remarkable level of transparency, and you can actually track every farm on BarentsWatch. When is the last time you saw that kind of transparency with beef or strawberries?
While the data is interesting to the fish nerds among us, here’s a behind the scenes look at what happens at Kvaroy Fiskeoppdrett, LoveTheWild’s first salmon farming partner. It’s a brilliant example of how we can get aquaculture right.
Run by a tight-knit family, Kvaroy Fiskeoppdrett grows healthy, delicious salmon in the cold deep waters of the Arctic Circle off the coast of Helgeland, Norway. The 70 people that inhabit Kvaroy island, which has no roads and no cars, are largely employed by the fish farm – and have been for generations, which truly makes this a community endeavor. With advanced monitoring and a commitment to sustainability, they’ve been able to raise healthy salmon in the same spot for 40 years – without the use of chemicals or antibiotics.
The salmon at Kvaroy eat a healthy, balanced, and ocean-friendly diet. Instead of relying on wild fish to feed farmed fish, the feed is made of wild fish trimmings (that would otherwise go to waste), non-GMO vegetables, and naturally occurring protein producing microbes. As a result, Kvaroy has a fish-in/fish-out ratio of < 1:1, meaning they are a net protein producer, harvesting more pounds of edible salmon than pounds of fish consumed as feed.
In the wild, salmon (and flamingos too) eat small crustaceans whose shells are rich in a powerful carotenoid and antioxidant called astaxanthin, which gives them a pleasing pink color. The innovative feed used at Kvaroy contains algae and krill shells which deliver the same natural astaxanthin and essential elements critical for both fish health and healthy salmon color – the way nature intended. There are no dyes or artificial ingredients.
Just like mosquitos at your campfire, sea lice are a natural and seasonal pest that impact both wild and farmed salmon. Kvaroy has proven that you don’t need chemicals or pesticides to keep sea lice at bay. Instead, they use a natural combination of methods, starting with good farm management practices to keep the environment healthy and in balance. Instead of using copper antifoulants, nets are coated with wax and pressure washed by a diver twice a year to keep them free of debris, which makes it harder for lice to attach. Skirts are placed around pens to prevent lice from drifting in at times when natural infestations are high. And to ensure the salmon is healthy, 30 fish from every single pen are tested weekly. They are gently caught and examined, and this data is reported to BarentsWatch. If more than one adult female louse is found per five fish, Kvaroy uses a short chemical-free warm water bath to gently and naturally remove the lice – which jump off the salmon during abrupt temperature changes.
Lumpsuckers, adorable little cleaner fish that eat sea lice off of the salmon, are placed in every pen to live alongside the salmon at Kvaroy Fiskeoppdrett. To keep the little lumpsuckers in the pen, Kvaroy uses a smaller gauge net than is required for salmon. In combination with excellent pen maintenance and structural integrity, Kvaroy hasn’t had a single salmon escape in over 10 years.
Kvaroy has embraced technology to improve the health and welfare of salmon and the environment. Suites of sensors feed information on the water quality and the fish activity to the farm dashboard.
They are also one of the first farms to test new technologies like Aquaii, a robotic fish-shaped drone, to monitor activity below the surface. This swimming drone is a huge advance. Considering that fish pens are 98% water and 2% fish, stationary sensors can sometimes go days before a fish swims in range, whereas a drone can school with the salmon to observe behavior exactly where the fish are swimming. Check out what it looks like underwater at feeding time:
While not every salmon farm operates like Kvaroy Fiskeoppdrett, it’s important to know that many do and there’s a lot to love about salmon farming. When it’s done properly, farmed salmon can be a great solution for your body and the earth. As with any seafood, know where your fish comes from and check out the nerdy details at Seafood Watch.
We’re excited to help tell the stories of Kvaroy Fiskeoppdrett and other innovative farms that are pushing the frontiers of sustainability in aquaculture – and helping us to feed our planet responsibly and deliciously.