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Frankenfish approval makes us sad, but there is hope!

fish tails blog

Schoolhouse stories and troller talk from Southeast Alaska.

Frankenfish approval makes us sad, but there is hope!

Malena Marvin

Words can’t describe how heartbroken we are to see the FDA approve GMO salmon this week. If you're like us you're feeling nauseated and a little hopeless about this decision, but you're still searching for a way to turn the tides on frankenfish. Below we list four ways you can help push back against this looming piscine menace, but first, some facts to get you primed for action!

To be clear, this is the first time a genetically modified, living, moving organism has been approved for sale in the United States. And while we would do well to question the risks of bioengineering any animal, it seems especially risky to change, at the genetic level, a fish so recently “domesticated” that it’s existence poses a documented threat to wild salmon runs. As Ecotrust has shared:

"Purdue University researchers have found that releasing a transgenic fish to the wild could damage native populations even to the point of extinction."  Sigurdson, C. (2000).

And Purdue isn't alone:

"The committee's review of ecologic principles and empirical data suggests a considerable risk of ecological hazards becoming realized should transgenetic fish or shellfish enter natural systems." Board on Life Sciences (2002). Animal Biotechnology: Science Based Concerns, The National Academy of Sciences.

Their inventors claim the fish do not ever leave the pens, but releases of farmed salmon into the wild are documented regularly. AquaBounty, the corporation that bullied the FDA into approving GMO fish, actually just got nailed for it in Panama, where it is currently raising its AquaAdvantage "salmon." According to ABC News:

The Center for Food Safety also pointed out that AquaBounty Technologies, which produces the genetically engineered salmon, was slapped with a $9,500 fine from Panama in 2014 after federal regulators found the company in breach of Panama environmental laws when an accidental disease outbreak lead to "lost" salmon.

But not only are GMO salmon an ecological mistake of potentially epic and unprecedented proportions, their approval is a serious cultural blow to all the indigenous people along the Pacific Rim whose diverse and beautiful histories and identities so profoundly overlap with wild salmon. Not to mention the health impacts to consumers when you breed fish like factory cattle loaded with antibiotics, but I digress.

Our business, and our relationship with salmon, are relatively new (i.e. one generation old) and so we are quite humble in pointing out the impact this decision has on us. We are working very hard to fish sustainably, to reduce our catch and increase how much we give back to local people and conservation. In order to be successful, we also have our work cut out for us educating people about how much care and consciousness we put into our relationship with salmon; and how this distinguishes us from corporations whose “product” represents radically different values and harsh ecological impacts but stills go by basically the same brand name as ours.

Ray Troll's famous statement on the wisdom and efficacy of the farmed fish approach.

Ray Troll's famous statement on the wisdom and efficacy of the farmed fish approach.

It seems logical to think that if you want wild salmon - rather than pen-raised, antibiotic-crammed inventions engineered for size and growth rate – you can simply ask for them in markets or restaurants. Shockingly, a study released this fall shows that this doesn’t always work. Up to 43% of salmon tested were not what their labels said they were. In fact, the FDA approved GMO salmon this week but did not mandate these fish be labeled. This means that frankenfish can be sold by grocery stores and restaurants as “salmon.”  You might sit down to order a fish that you imagine comes from a fishing operation like ours, when in actuality you are eating something engineered for profit, crammed with chemicals, and bitterly opposed by real family fishermen.

As transgenically gloomy as this all is, even as I write this blog, smart and spirited people are working together to turn this around.

Here's 4 ways you can push back on GMO salmon:

1. Sign the petition to revoke FDA approval of GMO salmon. President Obama and Congress can override the FDA's weird call on this one, but they will only act if they hear from us!

2. Keep your eye out for targeted campaigns against grocery stores and others that would sell GMO fish. Costco, for example, recently announced it “has no plans” to sell them and they did this because of people protesting at stores and sending petitions. Let's keep the public pressure on and maybe we can run these guys out of town altogether!

3. Always question salmon on the menu. Ask the waitstaff, is it wild? Do you know for sure? Express concern if it isn't, or if, God forbid, the restaurant is selling farmed salmon without telling their customers. 

4. And of course, if you really want to know where your fish come from, support “sea to table” businesses like Schoolhouse Fish Co., and tell your friends! Want to get on our mailing list? Send an email to schoolhousefish@gmail.com.