THE BLOG
10/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Farm-Raised Salmon Are Turning Our Oceans Into Polluted Feedlots

The fish makes gourmets rejoice. Smoked-salmon quiche, grilled salmon with lime butter sauce, salmon sushi, poached salmon fillets with dill crème fraîche -- really the choices with salmon are endless and delicious.

The omega-3-fatty-acid-rich fish is also coveted for its health benefits. And, if you're looking for protein, eating salmon seems a great alternative to industrial-produced meat in the U.S. But somehow this dream fish has become a nightmare. As it turns out, farmed salmon comes with its own set of environmental and health issues -- threatening wild salmon populations, becoming harbingers of disease, and contaminating the oceans with antibiotics and toxic chemicals. And if you're eating salmon in the U.S., the chances are very good that it's farm raised.

Only about 10 percent of salmon on the market in the U.S. is actually wild these days Alex Trent, executive director of the industry group Salmon of the Americas, told the New York Times.

If this were a few years ago, your farm-raised salmon would have come from Chile, but since a disease outbreak has crashed the industry there, the U.S. has looked elsewhere for imports. If you're on the West Coast your farmed salmon is most likely from British Columbia, and if you're elsewhere in the U.S. it's probably from either Norway, Ireland or Scotland. And that's actually a bad thing -- for more than just food miles.

While salmon "farming" conjures an agrarian image, the industry is more akin to CAFOs -- the concentrated animal feeding operations -- used by the industrial meat industry that is responsible for most of the chicken, burgers and pork that Americans consume. They're also responsible for a lot of waste and pollution that comes with raising a whole bunch of creatures in a confined space.

The farmed-salmon industry, which raises the fish in floating "pens," has some striking similarities to CAFOs. The industry was jump-started a few decades ago, and it was initially seen as a great boon for wild salmon, which have been decimated by dams, pollution and invasive species.

If more people eat farmed salmon, the reasoning went, then that would help protect wild salmon populations. Unfortunately, that hasn't exactly panned out.

Raising salmon in farms has meant that you can buy salmon (although not wild) at a much cheaper price, and that has helped to keep the popular fish on the dinner table -- but at what cost to the environment and human health?

In my latest piece on AlterNet, I reported on the environmental pollution, the threat to wild fish populations, the economic turmoil, and the human health risks that have resulted from the farmed salmon industry. You can also read more about what's being done to change the industry and what consumers should know.