A First for Fish: Genetically Modified Salmon
Reprint by Catherine Zuckerman
National Geographic, January 2015
Love them or hate them, genetically modified foods are making their way into grocery stores.
Soybeans and corn have been for sale in the US since the 1990s. Now if the FDA gives the green light, the first GM animal, a farmed fish known as AquAdvantage salmon, could one day join the ranks.
Developed by Canadian scientists, the fish (photo) is an Atlantic salmon with two tweaks of its DNA: a growth-hormone gene from the large king salmon and genetic material from the eel-like ocean pout, to keep that growth hormone activated. The fish which is female and sterile, should reach maximum size quickly in the land-based tanks where it could be raised.
To keep feed a hungry planet, the GM technology could be used in other species, says spokesman Dave Conley: "Many of the benefits have been downplayed or ignored."
Still, the company was fined for environmental violations, and critics worry the fish could escape into the wild and create new problems. The FDA has yet to approve it for human consumption. If allowed, says Ocean Conservancy chief scientist George H Leonard, "it's imperative to be labelled, so consumers can vote with their wallet."
AquaBounty salmon is the first genetically modified food animal to be approved for sale in Canada. (AquaBounty)
I mourn for the inevitable fate of the beloved wild salmon
Dr Abe V Rotor
David and Goliath, native and GM types in the wild, won't end up with the biblical ending; the smaller salmon won't stand any chance in competing for food, territory and mate, in fact in all aspects of competition in nature.
Sockeyed salmon on the run to spawn upstream.
GM salmons will consume more - preys and other food sources - to mature earlier and bigger, armed with planned voraciousness, unwittingly limiting supply for their native counterparts, thinning the latter's population.
It is not just simple one-on-one competition; it is overall and interconnected displacement of members in the food chain, cutting links; worse, the food web is disrupted as chains are disturbed, destroying the integrity of the food web, and may collapse pulling down the local ecosystem.
Why the change in feeding habits? GM salmon carries genetic materials of two unrelated species of fish with different eating habits rolled into one - a heretofore salmon feeding, eating almost anything, small and big, live or dead, freely or covertly or savagely, often in quantities more than it needs called luxury feeding, a laboratory induced characteristic to gain Goliath size in a short time.
GM salmon invade and dominate, native salmon population narrows down, soon the overall biological diversity of streams and rivers and lakes, in fact even the ocean since salmons travel far and wide into the open sea before returning to their place of birth - exacerbated by unabated pollution, infrastructures like dam impeding free movement, over and illegal fishing notwithstanding.
Why GM salmon in the first place? Short term economic advantage to feed an exploding human population and meet virtually endless affluent living. Corporate dominance, cartel in the supply GM stock and methodology of production, making GM salmon growers down the line, captive of the "package" they themselves cannot provide except to grow the fish commercially.
Through corporate linkage with the exclusive supplier can GM producers operate, in the like of Bt Corn which is unprofitable to plant the F2 harvest in the hands of the farmer; the GM female salmon is made sterile, in the same way hybrid seeds carry suicide gene, and that hybrid vigor declines in the succeeding generations, an ethico-moral issue worldwide, on patenting life and depriving the small man of his right and need.
Fishing as sport loses its essence, it is like fishing in a fishpond. The thrill dies with the GM salmon et al. In the first place, has the GM salmon lost its homing instinct? Would it rather join its half-brother eel fish living freely in the ocean? Or would the GM salmon rather stay put in its borrowed spawning ground - rivers and lakes? How about the GM-contaminated wild type, now a GM-native hybrid. Has it lost its homing instinct, or its adventurous lifestyle?
How fast will GM contamination spoil natural salmon gene pools; the answer is disturbing as egg fertilization occurs in open water, where the GM sperm fertilizes the native salmon egg, by the millions, nay billions, and here the GM female produces only sterile eggs; which means a single GM salmon male can spoil a whole stream in a short time of GM2 degenerate salmon, like BtCorn polluting whole fields of corn sans its intended resistance - both cases sowing fear, in reality and uncertainty, as to the consequences on humans and the environment.
It might be the Waterloo of the natural salmon - symbol of pride, culture and values, barometer of pristine environment, doyen of Ichthyology, iconic specimen of natural history; I fear and lament, it might be gone forever, because genetic pollution is permanent, and that it spreads out indefinitely to contaminate the last member of the genetically related species.
Community fishing, a favorite Canadian sport; lodging house for guests in Lac Du Bonnet where the author spent weekends fishing.
Many a weekend I spent fishing in Lac Du Bonnet, Winnipeg River and Red River in pre-GMO era, when the adventure of youth was free of threats of modern technology, but today, in postmodern era, I can only go back to cherish sweet memories in archive - and holding hope for the brighter side of Homo sapiens to examine sustainability for the sake of future generations and our living world. ~
Salmon farming in floating cages and fish pens.
Acknowledgement: Internet photos