In their new book, "Salmon Wars: The Dark Underbelly of Our Favorite Fish," Canada-based investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins equate netpen salmon farming to "our generation's version of Big Tobacco."
The book, which went on sale Tuesday, argues that the "industrialization of Atlantic salmon threatens the species, endangers human health and the environment, and lines the pockets of big corporations.
The journalist couple said in a recent op-ed for the Canada's Globe and Mail that they were inspired to write something on the subject after attending public meetings several years ago near their home in Nova Scotia concerning salmon farmer Cermaq's plans to expand operations there.
"At that crowded event, we heard experts, fishermen and neighbors voice concerns about plans to locate as many as 20 salmon farms along our stretch of coastline," the couple wrote. "We decided to look into the issue."
In April 2019, Cermaq publicly announced it sought 20 licenses for the production of 20,000 metric tons at four Atlantic Canada sites, with an anticipated stocking date of 2023. But by April of 2020, the company decided to hold off on its plans, citing opposition it was hearing about the project, and calling it a "lost opportunity."
The authors point to Cooke as being one of the salmon businesses dominating the global salmon farming landscaping, and also one that condemns "salmon to spending their adult lives caged in floating feedlots called open-netpen salmon farm."
The journalists describe salmon farms as "vectors for pathogens and parasites that can spread to wild salmon," and give as an example Mowi's Atlantic Canada operations in Newfoundland, which in 2019 were suspended after the company's sites were impacted by a "mass salmon mortality."
"Just as Eric Schlosser’s 'Fast Food Nation' forced a reckoning with the Big Mac, the vivid stories, scientific research, and high-stakes finance at the heart of 'Salmon Wars' will inspire readers to make choices that protect our health and our planet," according to Henry Holt and Co., publishers of the book.
Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) Executive Director Jeanne McKnight said the book does not tell the entire story when it comes to companies such as Cooke.
"We believe it does a disservice to the public to publish what is essentially a rehash of old, largely disproven, claims," she said.
She pointed to Cooke's transition last year to farming steelhead trout in Washington State, allowing the group to continue operating after an Atlantic salmon escape in 2017 put the company's future in the region in doubt, as one example.
"That approval imposed numerous new conditions on fish farming in Washington, which Cooke readily accepted," she said.
Frantz is a former managing editor of the Los Angeles Times and shared a Pulitzer Prize as a foreign correspondent at The New York Times.
After his career in journalism, he was chief investigator for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, and deputy secretary-general at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.
Collins has been a foreign correspondent and reporter for the Chicago Tribune and written for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.