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Impacts of Salmon Aquaculture Top Agenda at Dialogue Meeting in Chile

WASHINGTON: The Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue met in Santiago, Chile this week to discuss new reports about two of the key impacts of salmon aquaculture production - chemical inputs and nutrient loading/carrying capacity - and the socioeconomic costs and benefits of salmon aquaculture.

Input from the meeting - attended by more than 80 producers, government officials, nongovernmental organizations and other salmon industry stakeholders - will be used to create measurable, performance-based environmental and social standards that minimize or eliminate the key impacts of salmon farming. In addition to chemical inputs and nutrient loading/carrying capacity, the other key impacts identified by Dialogue participants are feed, disease/parasites, social impacts, escapes and benthic impacts/siting.

To learn more about each impact, the Steering Committee for the WWF-initiated Dialogue created technical working groups that drafted a series of "State of Information Reports." Each report assesses existing research related to an impact, identifies gaps or areas of disagreement in the research and suggests a process for addressing the gaps.

A key finding from the nutrient loading/carrying capacity report is that improved feed management, technology and siting has led to significant reductions in visible nutrient impacts and cases of on-farm eutrophication. However, this is countered by the dramatic growth of the industry and limited understanding of impacts associated with the cumulative increase in nutrients that are more widely dispersed into the marine environment. The research also showed that water exchange is the most important driver of impacts on water quality and the plant and animal communities living in pelagic ecosystems.

The chemical inputs report addresses the current status of intentional chemical inputs, regulations and research in the salmon aquaculture industry in Norway, Scotland, Canada and Chile. Intentional inputs studied include parasiticides, antibiotics, antifoulants, anaesthetics and disinfectants. The key conclusion of this report is that the public availability of verifiable data on chemical use in salmon aquaculture is variable. This variability makes it difficult to compare data, prepare general recommendations and to comment on risks associated with chemical usage. The need for an improved level of transparency and availability of information on chemical use is highlighted by the researchers. The report also showed that the rate of application of certain chemicals is higher in some jurisdictions than others.

"It was very valuable to have the presentations from the technical groups," said Jay Ritchlin of Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform and a member of the Steering Committee. "It is obvious that people are now anxious for us to produce standards and recommendations that will lead to positive change."

The Dialogue Steering Committee hopes to work with governments and stakeholders to determine a way forward to resolve the issues raised in the reports and other important issues. Both the environment and the salmon industry can benefit from reducing these impacts.

To view the full reports, go to

Also at the meeting, the socioeconomic costs and benefits of salmon farming around the world were discussed. Issues raised include employment in rural areas, wages and on-farm working conditions, as well as the competition for space and interactions between industries in the coastal zone. The presentations and comments from salmon workers, scientists, nongovernmental agencies and others will be used by the Steering Committee to guide the development of the terms of reference for the technical working group addressing these issues.

"These three days clearly have demonstrated the importance of open dialogue, as well as sharing of scientific knowledge and examples of best practice management to reduce negative environmental impacts from salmon farming around the world," said Kjell Maroni, scientific director for aquaculture in the Norwegian Seafood Federation and a Steering Committee member.

Reports regarding escapes and benthic impacts will be reviewed at the two-day Dialogue meeting in Barcelona that will begin Jan. 31. Additional meetings will be scheduled in 2008 to review the remaining reports. The first report was published in 2005 and relates to salmon feed and the environment.


Notes to editor:

Background about the Aquaculture Dialogues:

  • WWF is the catalyst for a series of species-specific roundtables, called the Aquaculture Dialogues, that consist of multiple stakeholders developing standards for certifying 10 aquaculture products: salmon, shrimp, tilapia, pangasius, trout (to begin in 2008) and five types of molluscs.
  • All of the standards will be built on a consensus about the key impacts; identify and support the adoption or adaptation of better management practices that significantly reduce or eliminate those impacts; determine globally acceptable performance levels; and contribute to global shifts in performance within an industry
  • The Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue is driven by a Steering Committee that includes representatives from Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, Fundación Terram, Marine Harvest, National Environmental Trust, Norwegian Seafood Federation, SalmonChile, Salmon of the Americas, Skretting and WWF. Dialogue participants include Salmon producers, retailers, scientists, environmental groups and others.
  • The meeting in Santiago was the 10th meeting of the Dialogue since the group was created in 2004.
  • To learn more about the Dialogues, go to


    Main impacts of salmon aquaculture, agreed on by Dialogue participants:

  • Benthic impacts and siting: Chemicals and excess nutrients from food and feces associated with salmon farms can disturb the flora and fauna on the ocean bottom (benthos).
  • Chemical inputs: Excessive use of chemicals - such as antibiotics, anti-foulants and pesticides - or the use of banned chemicals can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health.
  • Disease/parasites: Viruses and parasites can transfer between farmed and wild fish, as well as among farms.
  • Escapes: Escaped farmed salmon can compete with wild fish and interbreed with local wild stocks of the same population, altering the overall pool of genetic diversity.
  • Feed: A growing salmon farming business must control and reduce its dependency upon fishmeal and fish oil - a primary ingredient in salmon feed - so as not to put additional pressure on the world's fisheries. Fish caught to make fishmeal and oil currently represent one-third of the global fish harvest.
  • Nutrient loading and carrying capacity: Excess food and fish waste in the water have the potential to increase the levels of nutrients in the water. This can cause the growth of algae, which consumes oxygen that is meant for other plant and animal life.
  • Social issues: Salmon farming often employs a large number of workers on farms and in processing plants, potentially placing labor practices and worker rights under public scrutiny. Additionally, conflicts can arise among users of the shared coastal environment.


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