who are the culprits? – Part 2

As I stated in the previous post – who are the culprits? Part 1.

All we need to do is look in the mirror. This is the follow up post – if you’re reading this one first then maybe save Part 1 for after – maybe it’ll make you laugh.

All of the potential culprits for salmon declines have an impact. And where does all of the evidence point to? Well, you and me.

All of my peer reviewed, government sanctioned, empirical, academically rigorous research has conclusively proven that you and I are responsible for wild salmon declines.

These graphs come from The Great Salmon Run by from Gunnar Knapp, and Cathy Roheim and James Anderson of   the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Rhode Island (hosted on Social and Economic Research University of Alaska Anchorage website)

These graphs are quite small and look sort of innocuous. However, the numbers are stunning. In the European Union (EU) salmon consumption has tripled in 15 years and so has the U.S. In the “other markets” salmon consumption has more than quadrupled.

At this small size it may be difficult to discern the types of salmon portrayed.

The EU increase? Almost all farmed salmon, that’s why the bars are white.

Similarly with the U.S. The same report states:

About three-fourths of the fresh and frozen salmon consumed in the United States is now farmed.

And, by the way, there is no such thing as a “wild” Japanese salmon (as suggested by the gray bars in the graph). 95% of salmon caught in Japan are products of salmon-ranching (or hatcheries) – there are very few wild salmon left.

Little baby salmon in salmon-ranching operations also need fish feed. There are currently approximately 5 billion baby salmon produced by salmon-ranching – enhancement – activities around the Pacific Rim. (babies or not, that’s a lot of feed…). See my post from the other day how do we define wild? for more on this.

Here’s a clearer indication of types of salmon in the world supply.

This is suggesting the wild catch hasn’t changed all that much over the last 24 years – which is kind of scary considering levels of declines throughout most of the range of Pacific salmon (however that’s a different post).

Farmed salmon growth…. wow.

Farmed salmon production worldwide as the report states, has grown:

from two percent of world supply in 1980 to 65 percent of world supply in 2004.

From 0 tonnes to close to  2 million tonnes in about 20 years. What is the percentage of growth on that? 2,000,000%? Now if I was a pragmatic (conscience-free) investor…?

One of the most fundamental aspects of fish farming that troubles me – the amount of fish feed it takes to raise a farmed salmon. Older estimates suggested that approximately 3 kg of feed was required to produce 1 kg of farmed salmon. This particular report suggests:

The largest cost component of production costs is feed. In the 1980s, feed conversion ratios (FCR) in Norway were around 3 kilograms of feed per kilogram of salmon. In 1999, the average feed conversion ratio was 1.19 kilograms of feed per kilogram of salmon.

Good to see feed conversion rates improving – but why?

The reduction in production costs and FCR was made possible through consolidation and vertical integration of the industry, better broodstock, technology and improvements in nutrition, disease management and farm production systems.

I read that as corporate speak/bumpf for significant multi-national buy-ups throughout the industry. Result? A few huge companies controlling the industry – and why not with that rate of growth in twenty years.

Related tidbit:

In 1987, the United Nations convened the World Commission on Environment and Development which released their report: Our Common Future. The commission was created to address growing concern “about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development.” In that report is the now oft-used definition of “sustainable” fronted by then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  1. the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  2. the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

In Chapter 10 of the Bruntland report, the picture of the world’s ocean fisheries is bleak.

In 1979, the stats used for the report, total volume of fish captured (wild fisheries and aquaculture) in the world’s oceans was more than 70 million tons.

The report stated:

With conventional management practices, the growth era of fisheries is over.

Hmmm… I guess the aquaculture industry didn’t get that memo.

I also smell some irony here… Bruntland the Norwegian Prime Minister that fronted this report is from the country – Norway – that currently controls about 90% of the British Columbia fish farming industry (and well, I’m guessing 100% of the Norwegian salmon farming industry – I am curious about how much of salmon farming in other countries?).

Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2009 (first woman to win the prize) explains that unfortunately things haven’t improved much since the Bruntland report.

The world fishery has doubled since 1979 from 70 million to over 141 million tons captured in 2005. And worse yet, only 20% of the 2005 catch is from the waters of developed countries – 80% of the catch is from the waters of developing countries, and the bulk of this was not caught by local fishers.

I can’t say I’m seeing the connection between Bruntland’s: “concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given” and the tripling and quadrupling of salmon consumption (largely farmed salmon) in the U.S, European Union, and “other nations” (which my guess is not developing countries).

Regardless, the salmon farming industry is like the deap-sea going freighter that requires several nautical miles to start slowing down – or the proverbial freight train…

I don’t raise this point just because of the environmental implications of salmon farming – and sure maybe we get close containment, land-based systems – we’ve still got to feed them something and process the waste. Unlike our least favorite desert in our household as kids – “Air Pie” (parental joke for – no desert). I don’t think the technology is going to develop so quickly that we can feed Air Pie to farmed salmon.

There are economic issue with farmed salmon – obviously, as displayed by the graphs above. It’s also getting cheaper and cheaper to produce – especially with that “consolidation and vertical integration” thing.

This graph suggests a cut in costs to almost 1/6th of previous in about 20 years.

Again, who the hell wouldn’t be interested in investing in this (e.g. Provincial or Federal governments). Markets growing ‘exponents of exponentially’ and costs dropping by 15-20% a year.

Well… at least ‘economic’ costs on company balance sheets and shareholder annual reports.

Plus, with a glut of “cheap” farmed fish on the market – what does that do to the price for wild fish?

As pointed out in The Great Salmon Run:

The second trend is a steep decline in the value of North American wild fisheries, as seen in the decline in the value of annual Alaska salmon catches from more than $800 million in the late 1980s to less than $300 million for the period 2000-04 expressed in 2005 dollars… Most of this decline in value was due to a decline in prices (rather than catches), and much of the decline in prices was due to competition from farmed salmon.

Does this suggest then – a more “consolidated and vertically integrated” commercial salmon fishery is looking to catch as many wild salmon as possible to make sure bills get paid – despite declining prices?

Does this mean salmon-ranching and salmon enhancement efforts get stepped up to pump out more baby salmon to ensure salmon fisheries stay afloat (excuse the pun) – and that voracious salmon markets are kept fed with “wild-caught” salmon? (similar to Japan)

One might think so considering Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy is nothing more than a policy directing salmon fisheries – with nice fluffy window dressings suggesting “conservation” and such…

Or, does this mean certain governments might write off commercial fisheries in favor of salmon farming – why not it’s a massively growing market, declining costs, and we can all argue about “potential” localized impacts until the cows come home – or the at least until the genetically-modified, antibiotic filled Atlantic salmon come home…

(Or, until we’re left feeding farmed salmon Air Pie).

It’s complex… but we’re all implicated.

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