Oceana scientists concerned about high contamination in aquaculture salmon

According to a report published today in “Science” magazine.

Press Release Date: June 17, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Eating two fillets of farmed salmon a week exceeds safety World Health Organization limits.

Oceana demands action from the EU to eradicate aquaculture contamination and regularize production of carnivorous fish.

Just eating two fillets of farmed salmon a month is enough for a human being to intake an amount of organic contaminants that exceeds the danger levels set out by the American Environment Protection Agency (EPA). If we eat two fillets a week, we would be exceeding the safety levels established by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to a report published today in “Science” magazine, American and Canadian scientists have found high levels of organochlorine pollutants in aquaculture salmon, including PCB, DDT, HCB, dioxins, mirex, dieldrin, lindane, toxaphene and nonachlor. These are all among the most toxic substances for humans. Depending on their levels, they may cause damages from alterations in the nervous, reproductive and immunologic systems to cancer, to behaviour disorders.

European farmed salmon has the highest rate of contamination in the world, even 14 times higher than that found in wild salmon. Europe is the main producer of aquaculture salmon, with approximately 600,000 tons out of the one million tons produced in the world every year, with Norway, Scotland, the Faroes Islands, Ireland and Iceland in the lead. Other large-scale producers include Chile (around 170,000 tons), Canada (around 70,000 t.) and the United States (25,000 t.).

The study published by “Science” was carried out on more than two tons of salmon from North American and European markets, analysing salmon coming from the aquaculture industry in the main salmon producing countries in the world namely Norway, Canada, Chile and Scotland.

Salmon is a fish with renowned health benefits for the human being, such as the large amount of proteins or poly-unsaturated fatty acids omega-3, but mass aquaculture production has turned it into one of the most contaminated species on the market.

“Big sea predators such as the salmon, tuna or dolphin may accumulate in their organism contamination levels which are millions of times higher than those found on the sea. This does not only endanger their lives, but also those of the people who eat these species”, claims Dr Alex Aguilar, from the University of Barcelona, one of the world experts in marine organism contamination by toxic substances, and member of the Oceana’s Scientific Advice Committee. Mr Aguilar acts as a spokesman for the authors of the report to comment on the findings thereof to European media.

Salmon is a very voracious fish which feeds on a wide variety of other marine species, thus bio-accumulating toxic substances present in their prey. To produce one kilo of farmed salmon we need about seven kilos of fish, which is reduced to fishmeal and fed to these fish. This high level of conversion has also raised much criticism due to the large number of wild fish that must be captured in order to achieve good aquaculture production.

However, the high price reached on international markets has caused production to multiply by 40 in just two decades, reaching over one million tons a year. In the EU, the consumption of salmon has increased annually by 14% in the last 15 years -which has brought the average intake for a European individual to 1.5 kilos a year-, while in the USA it has increased by 23%.

 “This is a global problem that hits very close to everyone’s home,” said Andrew Sharpless, Chief Executive Officer of Oceana.  “Fish are a healthy part of the diet and people should not be forced to choose between nutrition and contamination – but they must be able to distinguish safe fish from contaminated fish.”

We need a global testing and labeling program so we can make an informed choice about what we eat.  Letting people know that they’re eating farmed salmon—and where it comes from—is an important first step”, Sharpless added.

Oceana demands action from the EU to eradicate aquaculture contamination and regularize production of carnivorous fish.