Vancouver Costco hit by farmed salmon protests

“I can’t believe how many people come up to us and say they want to know about [farmed salmon] - they’re worried,” said protester Shirley Samples.

Costco farmed salmon protest Vancouver - Mychaylo Prystupa
A protest group unfurled a "protect wild salmon" banner in front of Costco's downtown Vancouver story on Jan.22. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

Customers darting in to Vancouver’s downtown Costco recently for bulk deals on food and merchandise got more than they bargained for —the loud drums of protesters alarmed with the farmed salmon being sold inside.  

Many customers took the activists’ pamphlets.

“I can’t believe how many people come up to us and say they want to know about [farmed salmon] — they’re worried,”  said Shirley Samples, one of the opponents at the Jan. 22 event.

The group known as “Farmed Salmon Boycott,” unfurled their banner on the public sidewalk, and told passers by that the controversial food source is risky to human health and ecosystems.

Other Costco stores in B.C. in Chilliwack, Richmond and elsewhere are being targeted, as well as Wal-Marts.

“We’re here today because we want the public to understand the risks associated with farmed salmon. The government itself paid $26 million for a Cohen report with many recommendations [for] protecting our wild salmon on the BC coast, and they haven’t followed [them],” Samples said.

“We want to make the public aware of the dangers of farmed salmon— to [customers’] health —  but also to the dangers to our wild salmon,” she added.

Security guards kept a close eye on the group which included members of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.  Many have long been concerned that salmon farms, which were first introduced on B.C. coasts in 1985, hurt the province’s wild salmon.  

Elder Eddie Gardner said they’ve tried to get government to remove the farms from B.C.’s coast, but that their words have fallen on deaf years.

“It seems the only the only recourse we have is a boycott,” said Gardner, in a video statement uploaded to Youtube.

Costco Wholesale did not respond to a request for comment about the protest. But concerns over its farmed salmon have clearly caught the attention of its public affairs division.  

Costco addresses customers' worries

The company posts a question and answer webpage about its farmed salmon product, sold under its generic “Kirkland Signature Atlantic Salmon” Costco brand. It's not clear if this product contains BC-farmed salmon.

Under “do salmon farms spread disease?” the Costco webpage reassures: “Salmon farmers follow stringent fish health practices where brood-stock and eggs are rigorously tested and the salmon are raised in disease-free water.”

“Costco Wholesale also does monthly testing. We test for pesticides and heavy metals. Micro-biological testing is also done… after all that, we do the physical testing,” states the website.

The web page however does not offer a question about human health. It says its farmed salmon are non-GMO, but admits that antibiotics are used— “only under strict supervision of a licensed veterinarian,” much like the beef and poultry industry.

Costco farmed salmon Kirkland Signature Atlantic Salmon

But Samples said her group isn’t biting on the company's line. She said there are dangerous PCBs and dioxins that get into the fish, that people then eat and “bio-accumulate.” Pregnant women and their fetuses, she says, are especially vulnerable.

The group references a 2004 study in the journal Science which concludes that the risks of consuming Atlantic farmed fish outweighs the health benefits. Cancer and immune system dysfunction are among the health worries.

“One should avoid farmed salmon like the plague,” writes one of the study’s co-authors, David Carpenter.

The B.C. protest group’s website says its not against all aquaculture farms.  

But its does oppose so-called “net-pen salmon farms” — meaning  those located in open ocean, where currents “deliver oxygen to their fish and disperse their wastes” according to Living Oceans.

Industry: too much misinformation

Jeremy Dunn of the BC Salmon Farmers Association said there’s a lot of rhetoric and misinformation about the industry. “Health authorities around the world recommend eating salmon in Canada, two servings a week. They don’t distinguish between how the salmon was raised or whether or not it was wild-caught salmon."

“The fact is, it is the species that is the major determining factor of oil content, not the way it is raised. That is, Atlantic salmon, as compared to several species of Pacific salmon, naturally maintains higher fats as it has the ability to spawn several times.”

“Our operators in B.C. are the most responsible salmon farmers in the world, putting the environment first.”

Dunn added that the BCSFA estimates that salmon-farms create 6,000 jobs in B.C., and produce $800 million in economic activity for the province.

Samples says wild salmon are the “backbone” of the ecosystem, providing food for bears, whales and wolves.  “Someone needs to speak up for them."

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