Posted by: Celine Cousteau | August 16, 2009

Scary Salmon

A few weeks ago I went to Chile to conduct some research on the fisheries industry. It was interesting timing:

Within the first few days I arrived, the (massive) amount of antibiotics used in the salmon farms was made public thanks to a new law passed making this information available to the public.

I had a meeting set up with the NGO Oceana, who was basically responsible for making the stats available. They understand the need for the jobs the salmon industry creates, but they want to see stricter environmental standards set and more importantly, they want to see them enforced. I also met with Ecoceanos, a non-profit wanting all salmon farms to close. And I had a meeting with Sernapesca, the government organization meant to enforce the norms for all the different arms of the fishing industry- industrial, small scale, and the salmon farms. When I asked Sernapesca about the antibiotics I was told the amount used was set by the Ministry of Agriculture. Sernapesca, interestingly housed under the Ministry of Economy, only sees to it that the norms are followed. The Navy is responsible for making sure the safety standards are met. Contracted divers check on the nets to make sure there are no holes.

So who is overseeing the environmental impact of the salmon farms?

Terram (another NGO in Chile) told me that the salmon companies must determine their own impact through a set of tests (water samples for example) and report back to Sernapesca. If the area below a salmon pen is deemed anoxic (in a state without oxygen) then they must cut their salmon numbers in that pen by 30%. That’s it? Am I missing something here? I’m sure there is more, right?

So here it was- black on white: In 2007, Chile used 600 times (YES! 600 times) more antibiotics than the entire Norwegian industry, still the largest farmed salmon industry to date. In 2008, that level dropped to 350 times more than in Norway. Am I supposed to be relieved by this drop?

Let’s mention here that some of the antibiotics used are not FDA approved in the US (Oxolinic, Amoxicillin, Erythromycin, and Flumequine)…and yet…Chile has been the biggest supplier of farmed salmon to the US. And yet the industry tells us that by the time the fish are ready for export they have been detoxed of all antibiotics. Hhmm. No way, no thanks, still not eating it.

The Chilean salmon industry employs up to 50,000 people (Chile’s total population is about 16.5 million). You can’t really propose to shut it down without providing an alternative both for the workers and for the nation’s economy. Though salmon was artificially introduced in Chile because of the ideal water conditions, many people now have come to depend on the system it has created to make a living and feed their families. But it is evident it cannot continue the way it has.

By having this and related information available we can make informed choices. It is through our actions that we will pressure the industry to find alternatives. Don’t eat farmed salmon, demand better practices, demand alternatives, and check what fish to eat by using these seafood guides:

Monterey Bay Aquarium –

Bleu Ocean Institute –

This article is also published online at Herald de Paris:



  1. 😉 😉

    That’s two winks! 😉

    apparently that last wink counts as a third wink! lol

  2. Thanks for the disturbing but useful information, Celine. Nice to see have linked the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. I have done sound for a number of groups regarding sustainable seafood (I live just a mile from the Aquarium). They have a great iphone app that gives you up-to-the-minute info on what to eat and what to avoid. How cool is that!
    I hope to work with you again soon.

    Rick Chelew

    • Hi Rick- I’ve downloaded that app to my own phone and use it often- but what I am finding is that I am cutting out fish from my menu in many places where that information is not available. I’m glad to hear you have done work in that field and hope you continue to get out there in the world! It would be fun to hvae our paths cross again. Best- Celine

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