Why no to GMO salmon?

DISCLAIMER: The following blog post does not represent the particular or general views of any farming companies in Canada. The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, which represents salmon farmers and other aquaculture producers across Canada, has made it clear its members do not support farming genetically-modified salmon.

A company hoping to market the world’s first genetically-modified fish is struggling to stay afloat, the Associated Press reported today.

AquaBounty has been trying to get approval to grow and market genetically-modified salmon for nearly 20 years, and the glacial pace of the approval process has the company scrambling to find enough cash to stay in business in the new year, company CEO Ron Stotish told AP.

That’s too bad, and we hope this idea doesn’t die because of lack of funding. However, we do understand why so many people are against this idea, calling it “Frankenfish” and expressing their concerns about the potential threat to wild stocks.

But from a scientific perspective, the GMO salmon makes sense, providing a fish to farm which could actually make land-based salmon farms cost-effective.

The genetically-modified AquaBounty salmon, which includes a fast-growing gene from Chinook salmon and a cold-resistant gene from the ocean pout, would look and taste identical to conventional farmed salmon.

AquaBounty unfortunately promotes itself by bashing conventional ocean farms, particularly suggesting that escapes are a problem and threat to wild stocks (they aren’t in B.C., where there haven’t been escapes for several years; where any escapees are vastly outnumbered by well-established wild Pacific salmon; and where farmed Atlantic salmon cannot interbreed with wild Pacific salmon).

But aside from that strawman, the company does make good points about why GMO salmon is a good idea. Genetically-modified fish in a land-based RAS (recirculating aquaculture system) would make growing fish on land much more economical.

The fish would grow faster and cost less in feed. The quicker harvest time would mean more harvests, and coupled with the lower feed costs, could compensate for the much higher costs RAS systems pose when it comes to water, electricity, equipment maintenance and land costs. Because despite all the pie-in-the-sky about how wonderful land-raised salmon could be, if it’s too expensive in the store people ain’t gonna buy it.

If salmon farming opponents really are interested in protecting wild fish by removing farmed fish from the ocean completely, they should be taking a serious look at GMO salmon coupled with land-based recirculation systems, instead of opposing one and praising the other.

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6 thoughts on “Why no to GMO salmon?”

  1. Their fish do NOT grow any faster than a selectively breed coho. It has nothing to do with the long run, this is current. Land based coho, finacially feasible already in the here and now. Capital is still slightly high, 8-9 million for a 1000 MT farm, which produces WEEKLY harvests of coho. It pays for itself fairly quickly.

    This statement must be mis-quoted.

    >AquaBounty claims they can get their fish to market size 12 months before “any other type >of salmon out there.”

    considering from ~25-50gr to 3k takes a coho 9 months – stating 12 months faster? is impossible.

    power to them if they can do it. but as you were stating about terrestrial animals holds true, I do not see how it is not true, I can say the same with the GMO fish. why bother?

    Have a nice market with coho with extreamly similar growth in RAS near your market and save the hastle of trying to GMO them.

    1. Where is there a 1,000 MT land-based coho farm? We are not aware of one anywhere in the world. And we are certainly not aware of ANY land-based salmon farms that have paid for themselves “fairly quickly.”

      You are right about the quick coho grow-out though, SweetSpring in WA (which has a 136 MT farm) claims to be able to grow fish from 60 grams to three kilos in eight months. It takes about six months to grow coho from egg to smolt, so the total grow time for a Sweetspring coho is at least 14 months.

      And maybe AquaBounty is exaggerating, but that’s a direct quote. It’s likely they were comparing themselves to the time it takes to grow Atlantic salmon in conventional ocean pens.

      Our opinion is that conventional ocean pen-farmed salmon, grown through traditional animal husbandry, is the way to go and that GMO is not necessary. But as we tried to point out in the original post here, if people are bound and determined to force salmon farming on land, then GMO salmon might be the only way to make it financially feasible on a large scale.

      1. There is a a couple 1000MT farms about to be build, designs are finished and plans are in the works. There are a few smaller sites growing land based. As everyone knows when you ask people to show the money if they are serious problems happen.

        For sweetsprings claim.. ask them for the data, that is all I am willing to say on that subject.

        I personally do not have an issue with pen-farmed. I have worked on farms for over 20 years. There are no serious issues *overall* every industry has problems and aquaculture is dealing with it’s problems quite well. just the bad PR out there, usually with no basis in reality or science. I am working in the design/consulting business now.

        But for land based, coho is the way to go.

        I just do not think GMO is needed. If you want to seriously do atlantics on land – it would most likely be needed. I rather just grow coho and not have to deal with the work behind GMO.

        but that is just my opinion.

  2. Their fish does not grow any faster then say a selective breeding stock of coho salmon. They are about the same, without the hassle of GMO. IMO if they get this legal, then the real prize is getting GMO terrestrial animals on the plate.

    1. Maybe, but the difference is that terrestrial animals have already been modified far beyond their original species by 10,000 years of animal husbandry, particularly in the last 50 years. Chickens already only take three months from egg to harvest, it would be tough to improve on that with genetic modification. Pork might be a target, but the value for pork is already so low why bother flooding the market with even more of it? Plus, hogs only take six months to grow to market size. Beef cattle take 24 months, but like pork, there is already plenty of cheap red meat on the market, and people are looking for alternatives to red meat for health reasons.

      Seafood is high-value and the animal husbandry is only 30 years old, that’s probably why it’s being targeted for GMO, which is being used as a short-cut.

      Also we’re not sure about the grow-out comparison. AquaBounty claims they can get their fish to market size 12 months before “any other type of salmon out there.”

      We do agree that in the long run, selective breeding will produce a better fish for farming. But we also think that if people want to preach land-based salmon farming as a panacea, they should take a serious look at GMO salmon as a way to make it financially feasible.

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