Concerns about genetically modified fish in the food supply is at least equaled by the environmental dangers inherent in huge commercial aquaculture. Located inshore or in sheltered areas just offshore, these operations are cheaper and easier than managing a fish farm in a pond or inlet than miles out at sea.
Pollutants and waste concentrate in relatively calm, still water, and fish farms have contaminated coastal waters with waste and antibiotics. Farmed fish, concerned individuals say, may slip out of their enclosures, harming local populations by breeding with them, eating them, or displacing them from their habitats, as well as spreading diseases such as sea lice.
And, opponents say, “There is always going to be a possibility of escape,” as commented Peter Bridson, aquaculture research manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. “We would oppose the approval of the current application.” Some environmental groups are concerned that the fish might escape from their pens and mate with wild Atlantic salmon.
AquaBounty says, however, that it is unlikely that its strictly female and triploid fish would mate with other salmon. Triploidy, commonly used in aquaculture, renders the fish unable to reproduce, therefore dealing with uncontrolled reproduction issues in the wild.
The company produces, it says, greater than 99% of its fish with triploidy because, as Dr. Stotish told GEN, “We were aware that there would be a concern. Also, also if we are producing a high-value fish, we don’t want it available for other people to breed in an unregulated manner.”
AquaBounty has also said, to allay concerns that fish farmers will file for permits to keep the salmon in nets in the open ocean in order to lower costs, that it wouldn’t sell the fish to farmers who do not have enclosed, inland tanks. A condition of use for the pending FDA application is the fish will be grown only in FDA-approved, land-based contained systems.
With regard to the genetic construct in the fish, AquaBounty’s CEO told GEN that “this is a very straightforward construct. The FDA disclosed over 200 pages of data and analysis for the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee meeting in 2010.” Opponents have misrepresented or criticized much of this information, he says.
He further explained that the introduction of the first founder fish was “way back in 1989 and it has been bred conventionally for than 12 generations by classical methods.” The gene construct was initially made in the late 80’s–early 90’s, with the first introduction into “founder” fish back in 1989. It has been bred conventionally since that time.
And, he pointed out, the company has focused particularly on this Atlantic salmon and knows a lot about it. The fish, he says, “grows very slowly for the first two years of life. It spends part of its life in very cold water, with its growth regulated by photoperiod, or sunlight, water temperature, and availability of food. Therefore, when food is not plentiful and it’s cold, the fish doesn’t grow very much.” A young salmon, he explained may weigh only 50–100 grams in the wild at two years, meaning “that you need to keep the fish around to get it to market weight.” The engineered Atlantic salmon reaches market weight in 18 months instead of 36, thus halving the time needed.
Dr. Stotish further notes that “land-based cultivation can’t be done economically with Atlantic salmon that exist today, which remains impractical unless you can sell the fish for a premium price.” Alaskans are worried about reduction in salmon runs and are overfishing their own fisheries. “What better way than to take pressure off wild salmon populations than with environmentally sound fish farming.”
Properly managed science, he says, could offer a safe and environmentally sustainable solution to the developing food crisis due to overfishing of the worlds’ oceans. “This fish contains nothing that a consumer of salmon wouldn’t already eat.”