WFGA testimony on bill to ban Atlantic salmon

(01/10/18)

Testimony by Dan Swecker

Senate Ag, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee

1-9-18

SB 6086

My name is Dan Swecker. I am the Executive Director of the Washington Fish growers Association. I want to give you a little background on our industry. I started in aquaculture 43 years ago raising Coho salmon in fresh water. At that time we produced Coho smolts to be transferred to saltwater. They were then raised to pan size in net pens in Puget Sound. A lot has changed since those early years.

Today the world salmon farming industry produces fish worth billions of dollars. The largest salmon producing countries are Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada. I remember when Chilean investors visited our small fish farm in Rochester to see what it takes to raise salmon. Little did we realize that Chile would someday become the second largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. Their production exceeded 700,000 tons of salmon in 2017.

Initially the plan was to produce Coho salmon in net pens. However, by the 1980’s, larger fish became more desirable in the market place. Coho only grew to about 5 lbs. before they matured sexually. It was discovered that Atlantic salmon could easily grow to 10 lbs. because of their longer life cycle.

As a result the industry around the world and in Washington State switched to Atlantic salmon. I have heard that Atlantics constitute 95% of the salmon grown in net pens worldwide.

There are significant advantages to using Atlantic salmon for production in saltwater net pens in Washington.

Number #1. Atlantic salmon do not inter breed with pacific salmon.

Number #2. Scientists have failed to observe any Atlantic salmon escapees spawning in the wild on the West coast of North America.

And number #3. Atlantic salmon are conditioned to eat feed pellets. If they escape they do not eat other fish or their natural foods. When the stomachs of most escapees are examined they are empty.

Here are some other important facts about the fish raised by Cooke Aquaculture in Washington. During the freshwater phase they are raised in a disease free quarantined hatchery. They are also vaccinated against diseases they will encounter in salt water. They are certified disease free before they are transferred. Health is a critical factor in their growth and profitability. The transfer of disease from farmed salmon to wild fish has never been documented by regulatory agencies in Washington.

Farmed fish provide an important source of nutrition for the world. Aquaculture is one of the few real opportunities to expand the production of healthy proteins for a growing population. Some people cannot afford to pay the price for wild caught fish and farmed fish are their only real option.

SB 6086 would devastate Washington’s ability to raise competitive products in today’s market. For that reason the Washington Fish Growers Association opposes it.