Photo credit: North Atlantic Salmon Fund
Kathleen McKeoghain, AlterNet | March 14, 2016 12:56 pm
Atlantic salmon, the native salmon that used to inhabit the northern Atlantic Ocean, rivers and seas, is a species now represented by an impostor: farmed salmon. Also known as cultured salmon, farmed salmon comes from hatchery genetic stock and unlike its native ancestors, lacks wild genetic variation. The wild fish our ancestors ate is gone. What appears on our dinner plates is a substitute copy, a genetic dilution of a once mighty fish, the adaptive king of the sea and a significant food for coastal humans since prehistoric times.
The change in genetic stock has been happening for decades, as farmed salmon are released into native waters via restocking programs (in an attempt to reduce the negative impacts of overfishing of wild salmon) and also unintentionally as a consequence of faulty containment in sea net-cages. The resulting “swamping out” effect—farmed in, wild out—along with several other insidious factors, has driven native salmon to effective extinction.
When I began to research the scientific literature on native Atlantic salmon, I was stunned to discover that this species (Salmo salar L.) is essentially extinct. How can this be possible? Is the fish before our eyes and on our platters not real? Yes, indeed it is, but the verified statistic is that 99.5 percent of all Atlantic salmon living today, whether farmed or fished from open ocean or rivers, is not what biologists call “wild type” and does not faithfully represent, in a genetic sense, the native fish that once broadly populated waters of our planet’s Holarctic zone, the ecological region that encompasses the majority of habitats found across the Earth’s northern continents.
The fish we eat today is not the fish that fed our ancestors or even the fish that fed our forebears of a century ago. Today’s salmon, because of the effects of a force called genetic erosion, is the diluted copy of a fish that once thrived on a wild genome, that tried and true set of original genes which, in the case of salmon, generated a fish capable of magnetic field navigation, survival in fresh and salt water and geochemical detection of spawning micro-habitats.