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Letter from the Editor: Salmon

I lived in Seattle for 24 years but went salmon fishing only once.

Bill Marler, our publisher, and I have a long history. Sometimes in reading the comments we receive on Food Safety News, I am struck by the fact that people do not understand his background. Bill was not a farm kid per se, but was close enough in that he was raised in a rural area on Washington’s Hood Canal.

What his parents did not raise on their property, they expected to get out of the salt waters of Hood Canal. They lived off the land and sea.

So at some point, long after I’d been living in Seattle, Bill decided there was something just unGeoduck about the fact that I’d never been salmon fishing. I’d never even had the desire, and I was from Minnesota’s Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Nevertheless, I agreed to go on this venture, which involved staying up most of the night and heading out Highway 101 toward the Pacific Ocean on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the tiny town of Sekiu.  That is as far as you can go north before Cape Flattery sends you south.

We arrived at Sekiu about 3 a.m. and slept across from the charter boat dock. At 5:30 a.m. it seemed that everyone in Sekiu got up and took a leak at exactly the same time. (No women in Sekiu at this time.)

Then we got on the boats and headed out to sea. I cannot remember what our limit was, but the salmon came so quickly that we were fished out by 6:15 a.m. and back in our slip by 6:30 a.m.  The salmon we took home was fabulous.

My idea of what salmon fishing is like was forever set.  Bill figured he’d taught me something, and did not make me do it again. 

My image of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and certainly Alaska, is one of total abundance.  Many years when I lived Seattle — even when there was talk about salmon being endangered — you could drive around to back roads where members of various Indian tribes were selling salmon at discounted prices.

It’s sort of in that context  that I am following the controversy over bigger, genetically engineered salmon.  I wish I could, but I cannot get too excited about it. Sure I understand how politicians from Alaska, Washington state, and a couple of other places can get all excited about it, but excuse me on this one.  I don’t think food safety is at issue.

During the many years I heard that salmon might be disappearing and how bad that would be for the cultural and culinary aspects of this fish, there never was a day when I couldn’t buy all I needed at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.

I truly doubt that it’s going to be the end of the world if bigger salmon become available.

What politicians will do to dance to the music of their constituents is always fun to watch.  But to let the likes of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, dictate findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration without any scientific backing would turn the approval process into farce.

Salmon are worth a lot, even driving through the night and getting up at o’dark thirty in the morning.  But they are not worth leaving science behind and turning into a bunch of Luddites.

© Food Safety News
  • Good editorial – Have you considered sending it to the Seattle Times and PI? The general public would be well served if they could also read it – Jack

  • Danae in Maryland

    Mr Flynn: To say that you saw a lot of Salmon when you were fishing on the Pacific Coast one day, therefore, Salmon numbers are not declining, is like saying that it was unusually cold today, therefore, Global Warming is not happening.
    Your logic is not sound. Whether or not your conclusion is correct – I don’t know. In my mind, your credibility is lost in the anecdotal portion of this article.

  • Steve

    Hmmmm….. if there’s going to be name-calling in this discussion — then what’s (who’s) the opposite-counterpart of Luddites???
    — You know, what’s a name for those who eschew most everything natural (food-farming-diversity- artisanal-etc_– while embracing all things industrial — processed, technological, synthetic and lab-created………… Ah… got it >>>> MUDDITES!….. Perfect!!
    But even Muddites might want to better scrutinize the biotechnology that lies within their next meal — after all, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are now in 70% of the foods on supermarket shelves — including vegetables, fruit and mostly, processed goods, although they’re completely unlabeled, making tracing and epidemiological investigation impossible.
    (What a good way not to get sued!)
    Along with the freedom of choice from knowing what’s in our food, Eaters should know that biotechnology fundamentally differs from classical selective breeding and hybridization techniques. It merges DNA from different species – creating artificial and transgenic combinations of plant, animal, insect, bacteria, fungi and viral genes that cannot occur in nature. And since the altered gene becomes part of the DNA of the engineered organism, the manipulated traits are passed on to future generations through regular reproduction.
    In this case the AquaBountry genetically engineered salmon hasn’t been approved for sale by FDA yet. And opposed to some other transgenic creations (such as fish genes spliced into tomatoes and strawberries; spider genes in goats and soil microbes in corn, cotton; soybeans and human genes in pigs and rice, to name a very few) this “frankenfish” might sound somewhat substantially equivalent to a regular fish. But it’s a truly a transgenic animal creation made up from creatures that could never breed together — a farmed Atlantic salmon spliced with Chinook salmon genes and coupled with a promoter gene from an eel-like ocean pout that keeps growth factors in a permanent “on” position — so it grows monsterously big….
    So, since GMOs are loose in our food supply, our environment, our bodies, etc. they must be/have been well-scrutinized by our guardian watchdog agencies, right?
    Well…. no, actually.
    Just as the biotech industry has managed to prevent labeling of GMO products in the marketplace, they’ve also circumvented significant governmental regulation and safety oversight. Unlike a number of European countries and Japan the U.S. has never passed a law regulating GMO crop technologies. Instead, thanks to promotional efforts in the 1990’s designed to make America Number One in Genetic Engineering, the US government ruled that GMOs fit into the (non-scientific) categories of”Substantial equivalence” and “Generally Regarded As Safe” and incorporated permissive oversight parameters into laws already in existence before biotech crops were developed. As a result, today’s GMO supervision is based on fictitious categorizations whereby EPA oversees GE corn plants as a “pesticide”, USDA labels GE crops as prospective “plant pests” — and FDA classifies genetically modified fish as a “drug”. Really.
    So — if agency oversight is more like that of a lap dogs than a watch dog — this is a free country and there must be outside, independent scientific analysis helping to protect the public interest, right?
    Well…. no, actually.
    Thanks to biotech’s patent provisions, the industry is able to completely shield their GMO products from outside scientific scrutiny. Independent researchers are legally required to obtain permission from the biotech corporations to conduct research on their proprietary GE seeds and organisms.
    So… the AquaBountry drug may be coming soon to a fish counter near you. Call me a Luddite if you will — I’m surely no Muddite — but I’d love to go fishing for REAL Seattle salmon sometime…

  • Doc Mudd

    Modern advances in salmon production may take excessive fishing pressure off natural salmon populations, slow their decline…and assure not only our whining paid NOFA propagandist “Steve”, but future generations of nimrods might enjoy an opportunity to fish salmon in the wild.
    The sky is not falling. That creaking, groaning noise you hear is just the droning sound of Neo-Luddites rocking and moaning and working their shorts into a tight knot over their ignorant fear of the dark. But this time groaning dutifully to the tune of good old fashioned profiteering industry protectionists — unlikely bedfellows brought together for mutual gain. Now that’s a pairing more unnatural (and more frightening) than the prospect of any old transgenic fish — behold a new hybrid breed of fearmonger: let’s call them “frankenfools”!! Perhaps they should have labels affixed to them so we can…oh wait…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZo38CWl5Vs&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH6sE8RMUuU&feature=related

  • Rosey

    I used to read your articles with reverence but after reading this flawed conclusion you came up with after one measly fishing trip, I know now not to read any more of your flawed articles. (kinda like your conclusion after one trip, eh?)
    How can you come to this conclusion after you visited the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and actually were lucky enough to go fishing….because you had the means and resources to just go fishing for the heck of it…because you have the luxury to do so,….in that little shanty fishing town that rely on wild salmon fishing?
    I’ve been to Sekiu and I’ve driven there just to buy fish, because they have the freshest and the best fish but also to support the town.
    How are you able to come to this conclusion that genetically modified, factory bred and produced salmon is still good for us, for the fishermen? How about those fishermen who fish the wild for a living? How would they survive if all the salmon we eat are coming from a farm, owned by a big corp who ‘maek’ fish?
    Shame on you. This is not political?. It’s not only unhealthy to consume GMO Salmon but it will be devastating to the poor fishermen who don’t have the money to lobby for their livelihood as AquaBounty. It’s not surprising how you didn’t mention the taste difference between the fish you caught and a farmed fish that’s been fed grains, antibiotics, and artificial coloring. Because that’s one fact that you don’t want to touch. And to say that there’s a plenty of salmon and that’s a good enough reason to allow AquaBounty is ludicrous. If AquaBounty salmon does get released (and they will) and kill off the wild, you’ll be catching those GMO salmon and you won’t even know it. So yeah, in your definition, there will continue to be plenty of salmon. You just won’t know WHAT kind of salmon you’ll be fishing, the next time you decide to take another leisure fishing trip.

  • ecofoodologist

    Thank you Steve for this insight on, to be kind, a lame article from a blog that aspires to lead in this genre. May I trouble you for some citations on the genetics of “frankenfish” for a non-geneticist?
    Your play on the word Luddite is cleaver, but the commenter to whom you refer seems too myopic to exist outside the FSN Editorial Dept. And why evoke the ghost that is yet to appear.
    Mr. Flynn played his card for BigAg bargain calories here, and thanks to Danae for the time to place his conclusion in the critical thinking trash bin. This article seemed like a subtle promotion piece for the proprietor, and didn’t merit a thoughtful comment, though I would like to read more of what informed yours. ef

  • Steve

    Here’s an overview from the NYT that gets into the genetics — and the coverall ontext.
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/frankenfish-phobia/
    And here’s more regarding the spurious justification that says engineering a transgenic salmon will take pressure off, and save natural sea-stock — as well as FDA’s categorizing the GE salmon as a veterinary drug:
    http://www.grist.org/industrial-agriculture/2011-06-05-genetically-engineered-salmons-fishy-promises
    where the author says:
    “AquaBounty’s appeals to our concern about overfished oceans, the environmental and market advantages they claim for their genetically modified salmon are readily debunked. And while the fish is not very useful to us or the oceans, it may be, in fact, very useful to AquaBounty — in a grab to control salmon farming as we know it.”
    — and then goes on to debunk AquaBounty’s arguments in detail….

  • Doc Mudd

    Ah, the testimony of eco-prostitutes. And so we now have vivdly displayed the frankenfool’s lame penchant for foisting pseudo-scientific opinions as “references”. Neither of our NOFA propaganidist’s citations accomplish anything more than reiterate the unfounded emotional Neo-Luddite position — no science, no logic, no credible explanation; just the same old lame frankenfool talking points.
    Pretty fishy sudden reversal of eco-argument from originally lamenting tragic loss of salmon habitat and forecasting regretable population decline, even species extinction to now pitching a new claim that salmon are doing great, no problem, never was any problem, plenty enough wild salmon to feed the world if we would only step up the pace of commercial fishing.
    Egregious frankenfool prevariction to fill the coffers of commercial fishermen and their legislators — strange new bedfellows, indeed! Eco-prostitutes. Disgusting.

  • ecofoodologist

    Thanks again Steve for the light reading on this. I have no doubt that the peer reviewed literature would be specific beyond my interest. It’s the same old thing. An earnest company trying to feed their part of the 9B people in 2050 and every other company drooling for their chance to profit from the same activity. Problem is; there is not enough R&D money to PROVE that every individual will be sterile, and not enough regulators to ensure that nutrient laden water from the farms is managed well. At some point details are mere distractions and recognizing the end game objectives of gene splicing, causes me to lean against it.
    It takes some fortitude to appear Pollyanna in the world of science, pseudo-science and profit-driven-geneticists, but if the Gordonian knot of genetic politic/profit can’t be untied then cut the damn rope and let it go. ef

  • The U.S. population has historically placed a considerable degree of trust in the regulatory oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its agencies. There is little tradition of people having a close relationship with their food, with the overwhelming majority of people having bought their food in supermarkets for years. But the 2003 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that even in the U.S., 55% see GM food as “bad” food. A 2010 survey found that over one third of U.S. consumers were very or extremely concerned about GM food, a 3% reduction from 2008. You can take action by staying informed and spreading the word at http://geneticallyengineeredfoodnews.com