‘Battery-hen farming of the sea’: sustainable alternatives to eating salmon | Tasmania | The Guardian

2022-08-22 03:36:14 By : Mr. James Pei

There’s good news for salmon lovers hoping to reduce the environmental impact of their food

Salmon is consistently one of the most popular kinds of seafood in Australia, but the Tasmanian farmed salmon industry has attracted significant criticism for its continued expansion and alleged environmental impact.

In the past, environmental experts on review panels that oversaw industry expansion have quit in protest, telling a Tasmanian parliamentary inquiry that the panels were not truly independent and were obligated to approve expansions. One of those experts also said the planned doubling of salmon production in the coming decade had no basis in sound science.

In April, Richard Flanagan released Toxic, a book detailing the environmental devastation he says is occurring as a consequence of salmon aquaculture, and the state government’s role in allowing it.

In late October, it was announced that Brazilian meat-processing giant JBS had received approval for a $500m takeover deal of Tasmanian farmer Huon. The announcement came after months of efforts from environmentalists opposing the bid.

JBS in Brazil, which owns JBS Australia, has made headlines in the past for alleged links to illegal deforestation, while its major corporate shareholder J&F has paid hefty fines for bribery in Brazil and the US. The owners of J&F, Jose and Wesley Batista, have also served jail time in Brazil while awaiting trial on charges of alleged insider trading. The case is yet to be resolved. JBS Australia has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.

The JBS Australia chief executive, Brent Eastwood, said: “JBS is committed to Huon, its employees, the local Tasmanian community and the broader principles of environmental sustainability, animal welfare, safety and social responsibility.”

“The industry has been accused of being allowed to regulate itself, more or less,” says Adrian Meder, sustainable seafood program manager at the Australian Marine Conservation Society. “[It] has been allowed to push the environment too far and expand too fast to be able to cope with the impacts of farming.”

According to Australia’s GoodFish guide to sustainable seafood, waste such as fish faeces and excess feed from open-sea cages washes into the surrounding water, introducing polluting nutrients. Low oxygen levels in the water – believed to be linked to salmon production – combined with higher water temperatures are also exacerbating the number of salmon dying from disease or asphyxiation.

Salmon farming has been described as “the battery-hen farming of the sea”, Meder says. “They’ve very much chosen to maximise production at the expense of being careful environmentally. And that’s led to millions of fish deaths through disease, and dead zones created in world heritage areas.”

Meder also warns that the industry and government’s planned salmon farming expansion in Tasmania’s Storm Bay, if fully realised, will mean putting the equivalent of all of Victoria and Tasmania’s ocean sewage outfalls into a single bay.

The industry rejects such claims. The Tasmanian Salmon Growers Association told the Guardian in October that the industry “practises adaptive management practices, which in effect means that it can adapt to changing circumstances, such as water temperature and oxygen levels”.

“It monitors pens on a 24/7 basis for fish health and water quality, and environmental monitoring is also undertaken by independent, third-party scientists and researchers.”

For salmon lovers hoping to reduce the environmental impact of their food, there is some very good news: king salmon, farmed in New Zealand, is a perfect alternative. While king salmon is a different fish species, you wouldn’t know it; it can be used anywhere you would normally use Tasmanian-farmed salmon, including raw applications such as sashimi and ceviche.

“We have a green-listed alternative that is actually a salmon, and also a very highly regarded product for its quality,” Meder says. “It’s the same sort of thing, simply farmed more responsibly.”

According to Meder, the impact of salmon farming in New Zealand is kept under tighter government control.

“That industry hasn’t been empowered and enabled by government to do whatever the hell it wants to, which is largely the situation in Tasmania,” he says.

New Zealand’s seas are also colder and better suited to the physiology of salmon, meaning fish require less feed and grow more efficiently.

Darren Robertson, chef and co-owner of Three Blue Ducks, says: “When sourcing salmon for the restaurant, we always use king salmon from New Zealand.”

Robertson also endorses the Goodfish guide, calling it a “great resource”. His decision to source only New Zealand-farmed king salmon for Three Blue Ducks is based on its green-list status in the guide.

Robertson and Meder are both also enthusiastic advocates for broadening one’s tastes and eating a variety of seafood.

“This is the way we used to eat seafood,” Meder says. “Just like we’ve really narrowed our taste down to very few types of animal proteins ... we’re going the same way in seafood. It’s quite a recent thing and it means putting a lot of pressure on relatively fewer species.”

The oiliness that is prized in salmon can be found in a number of other, more sustainable fish. Meder recommends sardines as a “super affordable” option that have grown in popularity in recent years, as well as bonito and mackerel.

“There are so many amazing sustainable options to enjoy when it comes to seafood.,” Robertson says. “We’re big fans of barramundi, mussels, Murray cod, oysters, Spanish mackerel, freshwater crayfish, river trout, spanner crab – to be honest, the list is huge.

“Cooking with a variety of seafood is a lot more exciting for us, our chefs and our customers, and is super achievable for the home cook too.”

However, if you’re browsing the Goodfish guide and come across the Australian salmon, a wild-caught green-listed fish, don’t let the name fool you – it’s actually a kind of sea perch.

Shannon Martinez, owner and chef at Melbourne’s Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli, says there are a few options when it comes to plant-based alternatives to salmon.

At her deli, Martinez uses watermelon to create a vegan smoked salmon. “[It’s] a smoked salmon or lox for a bagel, and at Christmas time we serve it with blinis and vegan caviar. It’s compressed and it’s roasted really slowly for a really long time, which basically takes the liquid out of it, which firms up the texture; then we smoke it and then it’s marinated.”

Of course, even after the roasting step, “watermelon tastes like watermelon”, so to build the meaty umami and “oceany” taste of smoked salmon, she uses both dried and liquid kombu – kelp rich in savoury flavour – as well as dried mushroom powders and liquid smoke. Finally, plant-based omega-3 oils are added to simulate the rich fattiness of salmon.

For a more approachable at-home option, Martinez also speaks enthusiastically about products made from konjac, the root of a plant, which is already used to make “zero-calorie” noodle substitutes found in supermarkets. Seafood substitutes made from konjac include squid, prawns and sashimi, the latter of which manages to look strikingly close to real sashimi.

“It’s the perfect vegan replacement for seafood because it has quite a rubbery, bouncy texture,” she says, adding that konjac-based seafood substitutes can usually be found in the frozen section of Asian grocers.

“It has a really neutral taste so you do need to flavour them. It’s like using any sort of starch – it doesn’t really taste like anything.”