andrew schneider investigates

July 14, 2008

Diseased water runs from lab

Filed under: Environmental health issues,EPA,Salmon,Seafood — Andrew Schneider @ 16:16

Those of us living along Puget Sound do a pretty good job of contaminating the water to the point that wild salmon have a difficult time of it, and we don’t need help from anyone else in making the Sound more precarious to our delectable finned friends.

Nevertheless, there are reports that large volumes of untreated water “laced with fish diseases” was discharged from a University of Victoria laboratory through Victoria’s questionable sewage system and into the water north of the sound.

According to Andrew MacLeod of TheTyee, the problem was only the latest at the lab used by Microtek Research and Development Ltd., a company that makes vaccines for the fish farming and hatchery industries.

The Tyee, a native word for king salmon above 30 pounds, is a daily online magazine covering British Columbia.

As part of a series of three investigative reports on this, the Web magazine collected a large number of university documents and internal e-mails to support its reporting. MacLeod wrote that Microtek, which is the largest user of the university’s aquatic facility, is involved in studying diseases and developing vaccines not only for salmon, but also tilapia and rainbow trout. The Tyee also reported the firm is studying diseased Atlantic salmon, and wrote that “at least one experiment involved sea lice, a parasite some salmon researchers say likely spreads from fish farms to wild fish.”

Several of the huge pens containing millions of faux salmon have been infected with sea lice in the past several months, according to Canadian environmentalists.

Documents discussed in the Web magazine’s reporting show university officials concerned about the safety of the pathogens from the fish lab being released into the waste water.

Tyee said Environment Canada was not notified by the spring release. I made a couple of calls to managers in the Seattle regional office of the U.S. EPA and uncovered no U.S. knowledge of the release.

However, the EPA officials responsible for keeping the sound clean have long been frustrated Victoria’s dumping of untreated sewage into water which flows into the Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

But, at last, our Canadian neighbors say they are finally “planning” to build a proper treatment system.

if you want to checkout The Tyee’s investigation, here’s a link to their site.

For more information on the company doing the research, here is a link to Microtek’s Web site.


May 13, 2008

GAO urges caution on ocean fish farms

Filed under: Public health legislation,Salmon,Seafood,Sustainable food — Andrew Schneider @ 15:51

Let’s talk about fish. Or more specifically, aquaculture, which is the farming of fish and shellfish.

EPA Aquatic Biologist Dave Terpening at one of Idaho’s many fish farms. PI Photo

There are fish farms all across the country. Small mom and pop operations raising catfish in backyard ponds and streams can be found in at least 19 states. Idaho is home to about 60 seafood operations including an alligator breeder and the nation’s largest rainbow and golden trout farms. According to federal investigators, the salmon aquaculture industry in the United States is concentrated in Maine and Washington, with at least eight Atlantic salmon farms floating in Puget Sound alone. Just a bit north, there are another 120 salmon ranches along the inlets, bays and straits of British Columbia.

Of course an alligator is seafood. Ask them in Idaho. PI Photo

As wild salmon grow more scarce due to environmental disruption and diminished water flow on the fish’s traditional spawning rivers, the growth of aquaculture has increased. Enormously in some areas. But some breeders and the White House say the fish pens in coastal waters are not enough to produce the salmon and other finfish needed to supply the market.

The big business “farmers” want permission to build sprawling complexes of floating pens, nets and cages in deep water miles offshore. This is the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone, which covers three to 200 nautical miles from shore. Thus, opening shop for anything in this hunk of ocean becomes a matter of federal jurisdiction, not state.

As it happens, there are few if any laws on the books to regulate this new concept in fish farming.

In a surprising example of the government actually getting ahead of a problem, the White House last year pushed for the creation of the National Offshore Aquaculture Act, which would give the Commerce Department the authority to regulate offshore aquaculture.

Rep. Nick Rahall, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the bill in April 2007 “as a favor to the administration. ” Two months earlier he had asked the Government Accountability Office to determine how such an unusual, deepwater, economic activity should be handled to protect the oceans and the food supply.

The GAO issued its 54-page report this week.

Rahall said the administration’s proposed bill doesn’t go far enough to ensure adequate protection for the marine environment.

“This new report makes abundantly clear what I have long believed – any offshore aquaculture development must be done in a manner that does not jeopardize the health of our oceans or the viability of the fishing industry,” said the West Virginia Democrat.

The GAO report identifies several important safeguards that need to be carefully considered before permits are issued to anyone. These include:
� The appointment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration as the lead federal agency to regulate and permit any offshore aquaculture facilities.

� The clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities of other federal agencies and states in the administration of these businesses.

� The establishment of a permitting and site selection process that clearly identifies the terms and conditions for offshore aquaculture operations.

� The implementation of a regulatory process to review, monitor, and mitigate the potential environmental impacts of offshore aquaculture facilities.

The congressional investigators also called for additional research on developing fish feeds that do not rely heavily on harvesting wild fish; exploring how escaped offshore aquaculture-raised fish might impact wild fish populations; and developing strategies to breed and raise fish while effectively managing possible disease.

We’ll get into a look at the oyster, mussels, shrimp and other shellfish growers in another posting.

May 4, 2008

Keta can sub for $30-a-pound King salmon

Filed under: Food - good, bad, weird,Good food,Salmon,Seafood — Andrew Schneider @ 22:48

The timing was great.

With prices for some wild king salmon soaring higher than $30 a pound, dozens of chefs, fishermen and seafood mongers demonstrated how to put tasty and nutritional wild salmon on the plate that costs about a tenth as much.

The stars of the show on Saturday at Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal was keta, or chum, salmon and pink salmon. Fourteen teams of BBQers from throughout Washington lit their smokers and grills to compete in a fishy cook off where they had to prepare a keta filet, a pink salmon burger, a hunk of albacore tuna and a chowder made from halibut.

Chefs show how to cook Keta, By Andrew Schneider

The keta salmon coming off the Traegers, Webers and skillets were seasoned with almost every spice combination imaginable: curry, Cajun black rub, cumin, smoke-flavored salts and peppers, lemon juice, white wine, butter and garlic, always garlic.

Some cooks seared it quickly on both side to enhance the flavor and then moved it to a cooler part of grill or lowered the heat. One caution echoed by almost all was don’t overcook the keta.

The real creativity seemed to come with the pink salmon burgers. The chopped salmon was mixed with everything from full cloves of roasted garlic, to capers, mushrooms, sharp cheddar, blue cheese, peppers of all colors and heat.

Alder, apple and hickory smoke from the grills and the aroma of cooking salmon wafted across the scores of boats comprising Seattle’s portion of the berthed Alaska fishing fleet. Lines of eager samplers queued up at each of the competitor’s make-shift kitchens to taste what a little ingenuity can create out of the cheapest salmon. Few were disappointed. Many said they were surprised at the flavor, especially the burgers.

Several of the professional chefs and caterers said that keta will be showing up more frequently in restaurants as cooks come to appreciate the fish’s firm pink flesh, moderate fat content and delicate flavor.

“This is the fourth year for the Keta Festival and we hold it to show how great Keta and the pink salmon can taste when they’re properly prepared,” said Paula Cassidy. She and her husband, Jon Speltz, opened the Wild Salmon Seafood Market about 13 years ago and are one of the main sponsors of the event.

“There are few other places in the country where people are as experienced at recognizing quality salmon as we are here in Puget Sound, but Seattle is also full of salmon snobs,” Cassidy told me. “They think if it’s not King or Coho, it’s not worth eating. I’m sure that after tasting what these barbeque-ers and the professional chefs have done to the keta and pink, we’ve convinced a bunch of people that any salmon can be great as long as it’s wild salmon.”

One of the most popular venues was where John Van Amerongen from Trident Seafood was cutting 1-inch wide strips of Keta, removing the skin, rolling it into a pinwheel, running a couple of wooden skewers through it and seasoning it.

“I rub both sides with a little olive oil infused with some fresh rosemary, a bit of garlic salt and pepper,” said the chef. “I sear both sides in a hot (skillet), cover it, lower the heat and cook for about 10-minutes.”

Some, like Charlotte Wang and her 4-year-old daughter, lined up for seconds and thirds.
“This is amazing. It doesn’t have oil like King salmon but it still tasted great and I can afford it,” said Wang, who lives in Everett.

Knife wielders from Wild Salmon Seafood Market and Seattle culinary schools gave demonstrations of how to filet whole salmon, which may have been the most useful lesson of the day.

Knowing how to fillet a salmon can save big bucks.

Why? Check out the numbers: Filets of troll-caught Alaskan King was selling at $25.99 a pound. The whole King was selling for $17.99 a pound. For Keta, the fillets were $4.99 � or $2.99 a pound for a whole fish.

The experts said all that is needed to save a lot of money in your fish purchases is a sharp, inexpensive filet knife and a bit of practice. Soon you’ll be cutting your salmon steaks and filets to order and at a much lower price.

Keta was considered the best value on the market and that was before the Pacific Fishery Management Council canceled the commercial salmon season off California and Oregon.

Recipes and more information on wild salmon can be found on the Web
sites of the festival sponsors, which include the Port of Seattle, Puget Sound Salmon Commission, Washington Sea Grant, The Fishing Vessel St. Jude, Wild Salmon Seafood Market and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

March 10, 2008

Chemical colorings and farmed salmon

Filed under: Environmental health issues,FDA,Food additives,Food labeling,Salmon,Seafood — Andrew Schneider @ 10:00

Farm-raised salmon are being fed more like a cow than like a fish, at least according to Joe Schwarcz, who is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.

Schwarcz is also a columnist for the Montreal Gazette and this week he pondered the chemical feed and coloring routinely added to make the gray-fleshed, captive fish look more like their brightly hued, robust, wild kin from the Pacific.

The coloring agent is astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment found in a variety of algae that serve as food for krill, shrimp and crayfish, favorite food of the ocean-cruising salmon and the source of the fish’s rich orange color.

Salmon labeled as farm-raised

But, Schwarcz reports that these days, however, most salmon are raised on fish farms. where they are fed pellets made from other fish. The feed lacks astaxanthin, so the salmon ranchers add it to the feed.

The commercial production of astaxanthin is a huge industry, relying on
three distinct processes, he writes. Fermentation of sugar by certain yeasts can
produce the compound, as can extraction from specially grown algae. But
the most economical, and therefore the most common process, relies on a
14-step chemical synthesis from raw materials sourced from petroleum. Actually, the name astaxanthin refers to any one of three very closely related compounds with very subtle differences in molecular structure.

Check out the professor’s report for more on the raising of this cash crop.

February 19, 2008

Pesticide brew spells trouble for salmon

Filed under: Pesticides,Salmon,Seafood — Andrew Schneider @ 08:57

Fisherman’s Terminal By Andrew Schneider/PI

The Environmental Protection Agency may be underestimating the hazard pesticides pose to salmon, especially in the Pacific Northwest, says Science Now.

Reporter Erik Stokstad writes that one of salmon’s main enemies is agricultural chemicals, such as chlorpyrifos, made by Dow Chemical. Studies by zoologist Nathaniel Scholz of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle show the pesticides interfere with the salmon’s brain and harms their ability to feed. Now Scholz’s research is showing that mixtures of pesticides are even worse for salmon and can be surprisingly lethal.

Chlorpyrifos and other so-called organophosphate pesticides kill cells by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that helps neurons communicate. These pesticides are sprayed on crops and are widespread in streams in the Northwest; half of the waters sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey contain six or more pesticides.

February 12, 2008

Coloring in farmed salmon may get its day in court

Filed under: Food additives,Food Safety,Salmon — Andrew Schneider @ 10:22

The off again, on again, suit against supermarkets for failing to tell consumers that the chemicals have been added to the farm raised salmon, will finally get its day in court, at least in California.

That state’s Supreme Court ruling on Feb. 11 will permit private citizens to sue over artificially colored salmon that is mislabeled or unlabeled or otherwise fails to warn shoppers that chemicals have been added to the fish.

Farmed salmon, which are naturally gray in color, take on the healthy orange coloring of wild salmon because fish farmers feed them the chemicals canthaxanthin and astaxanthin. Consumer groups aren’t saying the coloring additives are harmful, but that shoppers should be told that chemicals have been added to the food they’re buying.

“This ruling represents a significant win for consumers,” Kevin Golden, a lawyer for Center for Food Safety, a national public interest group, told the P-I. “It increases accountability in the food industry . . . and empowers individual consumers to demand accurate and honest labeling on the food they feed their families.”

Golden said while the California action is binding only under California law, it could be a useful tool to consumer groups in other states that wanted to strengthen local labeling laws.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that consumer lawsuits filed in 2003 and 2004 accused supermarket chains of misleading customers. Lower courts combined the cases and dismissed them, saying federal law barred states from allowing private suits over food labeling, but the state’s high court unanimously disagreed and reinstated the claims.

Those lower courts said that food labeling is regulated by federal law and that only the government, not private citizens, can sue for violations. Neither the federal government nor the state has acted in this case to enforce a federal law that requires disclosure of artificial food coloring.

In 2003. a similar suit was filed in Seattle, and some of the country’s largest supermarket chains agreed to label their farm-raised salmon as being artificially colored. However, a check of the fish mongers in Pike Place Market found farm-raised salmon being sold without notices of artificial coloring. One vendor was at least tagging some of his fish as being farm raised.

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