An RC Explores The Lifestyles of Chilean Salmon, or, How are You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm

OU Kosher Staff

As the wave of healthy eating pervades American consumers, even the most entrenched in their bags of junk food have begun to take notice of the trend. Among the foods our couch-potato society has begun to more actively incorporate in its diet is fish, particularly salmon. As such, news reports have highlighted the differences between wild and farmed salmon.

Many such reports have questioned the health value of farmed salmon, claiming that the fish are kept in unsanitary conditions, fed excessive amounts of antibiotics, and generally are the victims of improper treatment at the hands of the capitalist system. Others have pointed out that the fruits of the ocean are not limitless, and that as the human population of the planet grows, so too must the sources of food. Responsible aquaculture in general — and salmon farming in particular — is an excellent way of meeting this need.

The Orthodox Union continues to certify products of both wild and farmed salmon producers, keeping our organization above the fray, but at the same time trying to remain educated about the situation. In light of concerns regarding the conditions on salmon farms, I took a trip to Puerto Montt, Chile, arguably the farmed salmon capital of the Western Hemisphere. In addition to reviewing the kosher program at many of our certified facilities, I was invited to observe the entire farmed salmon lifecycle at OU certified Salmones Multiexport.

Multiexport was good enough to grant me a day of touring its facilities with Brian MacDonald, OU Kosher contact and North American Sales Manager at Salmones Multiexport, and Benjamin Holmes, their in-house expert on salmon biology and feed.Together,we saw some of the most scenic areas of Chile’s Tenth region, in addition to the facilities that care for the fish during each stage of life.

Salmon cannot simply be dumped into a tank and fed until they “get big.” Each stage of their lives requires different care and different conditions. First, the hatched salmon must be raised in large pools of fresh water. These pools must have an artificial current swirling around them, as the fry are biologically programmed to swim against the current! Florescent lights above their tanks simulate sunshine, and turning them off for a while replicates the day-night cycle. As they grow, the fry are transferred to a larger tank with similar sized fish. At each stage feeding needs change. Smaller fish sometimes need to be hand fed, as the machine dropping pellets into the tank is startling to a few. Larger fish receive slightly larger pellets, made up of slightly different ratios of the same ingredients: sardines, soy, wheat and vegetable oils.

“After finishing their laps around the hatchery tanks, fish are brought to a set of open-net floating pens, located in freshwater lakes right outside the hatchery. There, the fish will continue to grow for around nine months until they are large enough to be transferred to saltwater where they will swim for another year until they take the final dive.

Transferring smolts (as salmon at this stage are referred to) from a lake to the ocean is no walk on the beach. The fish must be carefully pumped into, and then back out of, a climate-controlled transport tank and trucked to the company’s sea cages. We passed caravans of such trucks along the highway, with water sloshing out of the top at sharper turns.

Once they reach market size (typically around eight to nine pounds) they are brought to the processing facility where they are humanely slaughtered, processed and packaged.

After touring all of Salmones Multiexport’s facilities, I visited the processing plants of several other producers. Rabbi Yitzchok Shaked, the Orthodox Union’s Rabbinic Field Representative in Chile, and I toured the OU certified facilities of Marine Harvest,Aguas Claras, Pesquera Puluqui and Safcol Chile. Only then could one fully realize that professionalism, expertise and dedication to quality is as valued in the entire farmed salmon industry as it is in the wild salmon industry.

Not being an expert in health issues, it would be impossible for me to offer an opinion in the wild vs. farmed debate. However, this I can say: The farmed salmon products coming from these OU certified companies are being produced by conscientious experts devoted to improving the conditions under which salmon are farmed, processed and delivered to your local market. The OU remains proud to count these among the other outstanding products manufactured around the world and deemed worthy of bearing the OU Kosher symbol.