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Oceana Magazine Fall 2008: ...Atlantic bluefin numbers are crashing. Scientists are calling for a moratorium...

Do you like eating salmon? Tuna? It’s time to pay attention. 

If you like salmon, and you’re living in the United States, it’s likely that most of the filets you ate this  year started life in an ocean pen in Chile, crammed in with tens of thousands of other fish. For much of this year, that salmon farming industry has been battling a virus called infectious salmon anemia, or ISA for short. Annual production by the largest companies is expected to drop thirty percent.
That’s a big deal for a booming industry. In less than  twenty years, salmon has become Chile’s third largest  export.
The ISA epidemic has also rattled big American  purchasers, including the Safeway grocery chain, which this year sharply reduced its farmed salmon  purchases from Chile. Safeway stopped altogether its Chilean salmon purchases from Marine Harvest, a large Norwegian company that owns the majority of salmon pens in Chile. 

The virus is not harmful to humans, but the FDA has taken notice of a salmon farming practice that  could have consequences for salmon-lovers – the application of vast quantities of antibiotics. Dr. Felipe Cabello, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College, has estimated that Chilean salmon companies are using antibiotics at an astounding rate, dosing the fish  170 to 300 times the rate per pound used in salmon pens in Norway. 

After pressure from Oceana and others, the Chilean government has agreed to establish standards by the end of this year to reduce the use of antibiotics in fish farming. In the meantime, you might want to make sure you’re ordering sustainably managed, wild-caught Alaskan salmon. 

If you’re like many people, the other fish you are likely to order most often is tuna. As a reader of Oceana, you  probably already know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a health warning counseling  women of child-bearing age and children to limit their consumption of tuna due to mercury contamination. Mercury  is a neurotoxin that can build up in people, causing a wide range of health problems including   cognitive difficulties in children.

Oceana is campaigning to get grocery stores to post  signs alerting shoppers to this government health warning. This summer, Costco quietly joined a list  of other responsible grocers giving people this vital information. When we started the campaign, only one  small store – Wild Oats – was doing this. Thanks to our efforts, 36 percent of the U.S. grocery market is doing the right thing.

Unfortunately tuna simultaneously face another threat.  Atlantic bluefin numbers are crashing. Scientists have called for a moratorium to let the fish recover. 

Under pressure from Oceana and likeminded groups, the European Union ended the bluefin tuna season in the Mediterranean two weeks early this year. In addition, Oceana is campaigning to establish spawning sanctuaries in the Mediterranean. This summer, operating from the research vessel MarViva Med, we conducted scientific research, including larval surveys, to better document the location of  bluefin spawning zones.

One marine scientist has written that “we do not know  whether it is already too late for the western bluefin. It is  likely not too late for the Mediterranean population.”   Oceana, thanks to your generous help, is on the job. We  are developing the science on the water, and in  face-to-face meetings with key policymakers, we are demanding immediate action to stop the reckless overfishing of this wonderful fish.

Thank you for your support of Oceana. Your loyalty and  generosity make it possible for us to win the campaigns that will protect and restore abundant oceans.