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Searching the world for sustainable seafood

Posted by by Bea James, senior manager of organic, natural and sustainable programs
Thursday, January 12, 2012

A few weeks ago I was in Tofino, British Columbia, visiting an aquaculture farm called Creative Salmon. Last week I traveled to Santiago Chile to attend a sustainable aquaculture conference. My travels are just part of our commitment for continued research and education regarding sustainable seafood.

Rick Jefferies, broker for Creative Salmon; me; and Tim Rundle, general manager at Creative Salmon, on the boat heading out to the ponds.

There’s a lot to learn on the subject of sustainable seafood, and I’m fortunate to work for a company that is willing to seek the world over to bring the best in products and education.

Our interest in Creative Salmon was peeked when we heard that they do not use antibiotics in their market salmon, which for farmed salmon is quite unusual. We also heard that they are about to be Canada’s first certified organic salmon farm once the Canadian Organic Standards are passed. The trip was to see it all first hand.

Tofino is a small town of about 1,700 residents on the west coast of Vancouver Island, just teetering on the southern edge of Clayoquot Sound. It’s quite the winding road to get there, and the drive in is most definitely not for anyone that gets woozy on steep narrow roads that overlook drop offs down to the rocky streams.

The area is surrounded by glorious mountains, evergreens and wildlife (bears and mountain lions abound). As I peered down from the passenger side of the car I was able to see thousands of wild salmon swimming upstream for their annual spawning voyage. Truly breathtaking!

Creative Salmon farms indigenous Chinook salmon. Despite being one of the smallest salmon farming companies in the world, they are fully integrated. That means they produce their own broodstock (parents) and smolts (baby fish), as well as raise and harvest the fish and process them in a plant located right on the dock in Tofino. They are known for their sustainable practices which include:

  • Raising only Chinook salmon, indigenous to the great Pacific Northwest. This is good because the salmon don’t have to adapt to a strange environment, they’re already home.
  • GMO-free diet rich in fish meal and fish oil, resulting in salmon high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Creative Salmon's fish are fed a diet consisting primarily of fish meal, fish oil and 25% certified organic wheat.
  • No use of antibiotics in the market fish. Most salmon farms are using antibiotics, but Creative Salmon has not treated their market fish with antibiotics since 2001. Because Chinook salmon are indigenous to the area, and through good husbandry practices, they remain healthy without the use of antibiotics. However, antibiotics are used minimally and only as needed in the broodstock, which is never processed as market fish, but is still part of the process.
  • Creative handles the salmon as minimally as possible because salmon don’t like to be bothered, ever. Handling stresses the fish and increase mortality. To avoid this, they monitor the fish with underwater cameras, and generally never touch them between smolt stage and harvest. I was able to look through the camera into the ponds and see the salmon. Seemed pretty crowded in there, but Creative provides the fish with a low density, low stress environment in pens which are 100' x 100' wide and 50' deep.
  • Lastly, they clean and maintain the ponds and nets without using any harsh chemicals or antifoulants. Cleaning is done by power washing with sea water, or by exposing nets to ultraviolet (i.e., sunshine!).

I’ll be back to Tofino. For one, it’s such an amazingly beautiful part of the world, but also because we still want to learn more about Creative Salmon’s aquaculture practices. We have questions about the amount of grain fed to the salmon and the usage of antibiotics (albeit minimal) for the broodstock. We’d like to find out if there is any way salmon can be farmed without any antibiotics throughout the entire aquaculture process. We hope so!

Next time you visit one of our seafood counters, look for the country of origin label on the salmon choices. If you see mention of responsibly sourced salmon from Tofino BC, you can be assured it’s meeting our high sustainable seafood standards.

Tags: sustainable seafood

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