Junk Food for Salmon

"For the geoengineering set, all this news provides an opening for more advanced biotech ."

What about seeding the oceans with iron in the deficient parts — the places that are deficient in iron and they have a lot of the other nutrients — a little bit of iron, we get a phytoplankton bloom, it pulls out huge amounts of CO2, it stimulates marine growth, all the way up the food chain? 
You know, most of the oceans are vast deserts. There is an idea of using buoyant flakes. If you google climate envisionation, William Clarke, he’s an Australian inventor, buoyant flakes. You have something like rice husks, something that floats, and you lace it with nutrients that are deficient in the ocean and these things just float around. They will float for about a year and then they will die and sink. They are releasing nutrients wherever they go and they can stimulate phytoplankton growth. Something like that can absorb enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Something like that has a lot more realism than the IPCC favorite horse, which is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage — BECCS — we just don’t have enough land for that. And that is part of the RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) 2.6 of the IPCC report, which can only be reached if we remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
— Paul Beckwith, Radio Ecoshock: Weather Bomb (February 7, 2018)

One of the straws being grasped by desperate industrial addicts in the throws of climate panic is the chimera of ocean fertilization. The idea is that iron spread upon the waters could fertilize plankton blooms. That could increase the removal of CO2, as the plankton draw carbon to build their cells and then die and sink, interring their carbon on the muddy ocean floor.

Scientific review bodies, such as the Royal Society of the UK or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, have thrown cold water on this idea. Most of this uptake is transient; long-term sequestration is difficult to assess; there are doubtless unintended consequences at scale and some of those may be far removed in space and time; and there is no regulatory framework in place, let alone a scientific protocol. 

That hasn’t stopped rogue geoengineers from taking the matter into their own hands. In July 2012, two hundred thousand pounds of iron sulphate were dumped into North Pacific Ocean by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, under the direction of Russell George, founder of the San Francisco based firm Planktos Inc. which claims to “restore ecosystems and slow climate change.” 

The dumping violated the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the London Convention on the Dumping of Wastes at Sea which include moratoria on geoengineering experiments. Search warrants were executed by Environment Canada’s enforcement branch on George’s office after the Haida nation ended George’s employment, but no further legal action was taken.

Then in 2013, the west coast of North America experienced its largest salmon return and subsequently its largest commercial salmon harvest in history, from 50 million to 226 million fish. Commercial fisheries were opened in areas that had not seen a commercial trade since the 1960s. In 2014 the Fraser River experienced its second largest sockeye salmon return in history while the Columbia River recorded its largest salmon run of all time. The Haida were ecstatic.

We don’t know whether those salmon were a result of Russell George’s experiment or not, but there is another question that should be asked. How nutritious were those salmon? A Nordic science study reported:
Farmed salmon meat is naturally gray-white in color, and so to achieve the desired red salmon color, astaxanthin is added as a feed ingredient. In addition to being a vibrant pigment, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant found in algae and marine animals, and is also essential for the health of farmed aquatic animals.
Aud Skrudland is a veterinarian and special inspector at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority in the field of fish health and welfare.
She points to the main conclusion regarding fish health in the Food Safety Authority’s annual report, which states that “[t]he fish health situation is worrying. The aquaculture industry is still struggling with salmon lice problems, diseases, high mortality and inadequate emergency preparedness. The problems are hindering growth targets.”
In the past, more contaminants were found in farmed salmon than in wild fish, because the salmon feed was based on fish protein and fish oil, which added contaminants to the farmed fish diet. Today, salmon receive feed that is about 70% plant based, which has resulted in farmed salmon having a lower contaminant level than wild salmon.
Farmed salmon have a less favorable omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid ratio than is found in wild salmon. But they still have some ability, especially early in life, to convert omega-3 from plants to the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Skåre says that there is no nutritional difference between farmed salmon and wild salmon in terms of proteins, vitamin B12 and iodine.
However, farmed salmon contains a little less selenium, copper, zinc and iron.
If you order “wild salmon” in a restaurant, that may not be what ends up on your plate — especially during the out-of-season winter months.
A new report from the advocacy group Oceana found that 43% of “wild salmon” samples collected between December and March were mislabeled. And in restaurants during that period, this figure jumps to 67%. When fish imports make their way to the US, less than 1% of it is inspected to see if it’s mislabeled

In 2015, The Atlantic published a story claiming that 33 percent of fish the US market were mislabeled. The commercial fish industry came down hard on the magazine, forcing this retraction:
This piece originally stated that 33 percent of all seafood is mislabeled. In fact, 33 percent of the seafood Oceana tested was mislabeled, but their sample was not necessarily representative of the entire industry. We regret the error.
The Atlantic, however, let stand this statement:
Ninety percent of our fish is imported from countries with loose aquaculture laws, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Canada, China, Ecuador, and Vietnam. Some seafood from these countries may come mislabeled from unregulated fish farms.
In the salmon runs of British Columbia the regulators are overwhelmed: 
Having a dual mandate of both looking after the wild salmon as well as promoting fish farming, the government agencies in BC turn a blind eye to the real threat that open-net salmon farms pose for the wild salmon stocks. Sea lice — parasites that bloom in the open-net cages — rain down on the passing wild Pacific salmon smelt, as they swim by on the way to the ocean. The salmon feedlots also are incubators for infectious diseases, such as piscine reovirus (PRV), Heart and Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), and others that can reach epidemic proportions quickly and at any time in such monocultural environments. This happened in Chile in 2007, when a 3-year long outbreak of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA — a type of influenza) led to millions of farmed salmon being killed, thousands of jobs lost and major financial problems for the fish farming industry. In addition to the diseases and parasite infestation, there is also the need for predator control, with over 7,000 seals and sea lions shot and killed between 1990–2010 in BC, to stop them from taking salmon from the open-nets.
Still, there are more fundamental ecological issues to be considered in farming a predatory fish like salmon, which is high on the food chain and thus an inefficient protein source. Depending on the source of information, it takes between 1.2 and 10 pounds of fish feed and fish oil to produce one pound of salmon. Converting protein and nutrients derived from fish stocks being depleted in one part of the world into a supermarket-ready slab of artificially-colored pink flesh “salmon” is economically — never mind ecologically — indefensible.
In a stunning investigative report by Helena Bottemiller Evich, a senior food and agriculture reporter for Politico on September 13, research from Arizona State University where zooplankton were given more light to speed growth provides some strong evidence that rather than boosting food supply — both for humans and the marine food web — ocean fertilization may actually hurt it. Evich described the ASU findings:
  • Increased food (light) made surface algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving. The same effect moved up the food chain.
  • Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae — junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients is out of whack — then it seems logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. This could already be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?
  • As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.
  • Within the category of plants known as “C3”―which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes―elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
Among those testing the ASU findings was Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland. Using samples of goldenrod collected by the Smithsonian Institution since 1842, Ziska found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution — a change that closely parallels the rise in atmospheric CO2 (and the decline of salmon and bears).

In 2014, led by Harvard climate researcher Samuel Myers, a team of scientists published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States. They found rising CO2 correlated to a drop in protein, iron and zinc.
For the geoengineering set, all this news provides an opening for more advanced biotech — why not simply engineer new varieties of wheat, rice, barley and potatoes that don’t lose nutrient density with higher CO2 exposures? Fortunately there is a much simpler, less costly, and far less risky approach. Let Mother Nature fix the problem.

Soil scientist Elaine Ingham says plants just need more cookies and cake.

Plant roots are putting out exudates all the time. These attract bacteria or fungi that can use those exudates and return to the plant whatever the plant needs. Ingham says
An exudate is something the plant is dumping out into the soil. It is mostly sugar, a little protein and a little carbohydrate. What does that sound like? Mmmm, cookies and cake.
Think of all these different kinds of cakes and cookies that the plant is giving away to attact soil microbes. They each will support a particular bacteria that can bring to the plant the needed nutrients from the inorganic material around them.
Whenever any of the first level predators — protozoa, “good guy” nematodes, microarthropods — eat bacteria or fungi, they release nutrients right there at the roots of the plants. These nutrients are then in soluble form, ready to be taken up by the roots of the plants. Chelated calcium ions stuck to proteins. Sulfur as sulfates. Nitrogen as ammonium. This is why those predators are essential.
The principal causes of the decline of wild Pacific salmon is land use change in the Pacific Northwest (from overpopulation) and climate change. Clear-cutting for centuries has led to the erosion of the riverbanks. Wood debris dammed up whatever streams had not already been dammed for hydropower and flood control. Choked by sediment and unable to get upstream, salmon lost their way and lost their breeding grounds. The nutrient density of inland plants suffered the loss of the salmon-bear-bird nutrition migration pathway.

But we know, dear readers of this space since 2006, that one of the best ways to build and protect that healthy soil food web is with biochar. We can’t offer that solution to those poor salmon the Haida caught, but we can easily give it to the plants people grow on land.

Those plants will be packed with nutrient density even as CO2 concentrations continue to march upwards. And that’s the more natural way, over the long term, to bring CO2 back down and salmon and bears back up.

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing it around. My open banjo case catching for your spare change is at Patreon or Paypal. My next book is Carbon Cascades: Redesigning Human Ecologies, due out from Chelsea Green Publishers later this year.


MAG said…
There are a couple of questions about this that came to me from advocates of this practice. This does not mean that I am an advocate.

What is the date of The London Convention that forbids this? I heard, perhaps wrongly, that this experiment had full approval of the appropriate Canadian organizations.

Is there evidence to support your valid hypothesis that the salmon catch from 2013 had worse nutrition that resulted in their being less nutritious? It seems obvious "You are what you eat." But did the study confirm it?

Thanks for digging so deeply.

This kind of highly prejudicial and negative writing I don’t want on our list.

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