Where there’s smoke(d salmon)…

by Jesse Oey 17/09/2021

A Sustainability Journey

So – if you’re anything like me, you’ll agree that a hearty Sunday brunch is never complete without a few good slices of smoked salmon on a warm toasted bagel.

Long-touted as a wholesome protein packed with health benefits, salmon is not only nutritious, but also delicious. Plus, it is readily available from most grocery shops in many different forms – fresh, cured, marinated, smoked, canned, you name it – also with varying price points.

However, amongst the plethora of choices on my fingertips, all glossy and inviting in many shades of pink and orange, I have found myself becoming a little curious about the environmental impact of my salmon consumption. Surely there’s more to it than meets the eye…

And so recently, for the sake of self-education, I have started paying closer attention to what’s written on the packaging of the salmon I buy. What I’ve found out since has been interesting and thought-provoking to say the least.

Something fishy this way comes

Firstly, there are a few different types of salmon that is available to purchase in Australia, the most common being farmed Atlantic salmon. The majority of fresh salmon products that we see on grocery shelves will most likely be of farmed Atlantic variety, whilst canned salmon will most probably be wild-caught, with differing levels of sustainability – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We produce plenty of Atlantic salmon locally, through open sea farms off the coast of Tasmania – but a significant amount of our supply is also imported, from parts of Asia and Scandinavia. For example, according to statistics from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Australia imported $78 billion’s worth of salmon from Norway.

On top of this, we also capture and consume a local variant – the Australian salmon – but these are usually wild-caught, stronger in flavour, and although cheaper, strangely not widely accessible to the general public; talk about irony. Plus, there’s ocean trout too – but that’s a story for another time.

When I first made this fascinating discovery, I made an almost-immediate decision to start buying locally-produced salmon over imported brands manufactured on the other side of the globe. To me, it was a no-brainer that buying locally-sourced produce would almost always end up being a better option, thanks to shorter supply chains producing less collateral waste, less need for long-distance transport therefore minimising carbon footprint, and supporting domestic businesses. A sustainable choice, tick – or so I thought.

More than just traveling upstream, this salmon has been up in the sky!

But then, in recent times, controversial conversations around the ethics and sustainability of Atlantic salmon production in Australia have caused some alarm – and for good reason. Apparently, large-scale salmon farming, particularly practices in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania, have caused immense negative impact on the local ecosystem, due to fish overcrowding, excess waste and fish feed, and substandard bycatch avoidance measures, damaging local fur seal populations. Add to the mix recent reports of mass deaths, and we’ve got ourselves a perfect storm of contradictions.

What can we do?

After doing plenty of research and some soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that just because there’s a lot of confronting information about salmon farming in Tasmania, it does not mean that I need to cut my consumption completely – at least not yet. I figured that the most impactful thing that I could do to start contributing to a solution was to take action through making better choices gradually instead.

This means that nowadays I only buy Atlantic and wild-caught pink salmon from transparent, outspoken brands that have pledged their commitment and accountability towards better practices: through getting RSPCA-certified, publishing their operation manuals along with real-live footage, and drastically reducing their farming footprint in the much-maligned Macquarie Harbour.

I will also avoid buying imported salmon products whenever I can – especially if ethical locally-sourced options are available for the same variety. And when I do, I will always pick the brand with the least amount of packaging, absolutely avoiding brands that double-wrap their products for shelf appeal while hiding behind claims of “added freshness”. When in doubt, I will tend to get my salmon from the deli counter, carefully reading the labels while doing so to ensure that my choice of fish has been caught sustainably and ethically.

Now here’s a challenge for you:

When it comes to shopping more consciously, there is one simple step that we all can take to get started: read packaging labels more closely. Sounds trivial – but like many of us I have been guilty of just habitually grabbing things off shelves and chucking them into my trolley during my grocery runs, often picking the same brands and products out of habit without a second thought, including my weekly salmon purchases.

So the next time you reach out for some salmon at the grocery store, take a moment to flip over the packaging and have a read – so you know where the salmon is from, how it’s been caught and processed, what type of fish is actually inside, and whether you’re unknowingly about to contribute towards keeping brands with less-than-ideal practices in business.

Hopefully, through doing this simple act and encouraging others to do the same, we can gradually create an impact and push the industry to do better, one smoked salmon slice at a time.

Good luck!

Jesse

Disclaimer: This blog is an opinion piece that is based on my own personal experiences and does not reflect the holistic views of this website. Nothing written here is intended to serve as legally-binding advice or formal recommendations. I recognise that every individual’s situation is unique, and your experiences may differ from mine in many ways. Healthy discussions and respectful dialogue are welcome and always encouraged.

by Jesse Oey

Jesse Oey is a marketer, photographer, and sustainability enthusiast based in Melbourne. Jesse’s journey towards a more socially-aware, environmentally-conscious way of life began in 2011 when he received a reusable coffee cup as a gift; since then, Jesse has been a strong advocate of sustainable living, passionate about learning, educating and raising awareness on how to reduce waste, make impact-led decisions on purchases and daily life habits, and invest money ethically.