The Arctic Sounder, 5 Sept 2014: Alaska-made film takes aim at salmon farming

Alaska-made film takes aim at salmon farming

The Arctic Sounder

September 5th 2014

By Jill Homer      

Sara Pozonsky, a lifelong Alaska fisherman and owner of Wild Alaskan Salmon Company, believes salmon farms are a perilously overlooked environmental catastrophe. And she’s launched an advocacy effort to help nudge the issue into the spotlight.

Pozonsky, Tracie Donahue, and Shad Selby recently co-directed and released “A Fishy Tale,” an hour-long documentary about Pozonsky’s efforts to encourage legislation that would keep Americans more informed about the fish they’re consuming. The film follows Pozonsky as she asks people on the street what they think about eating farmed salmon, visits a British Columbia community impacted by fish farming, confronts the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about their support of fish farms, rallies for awareness in Washington, D.C., and interviews U.S. Rep. Don Young about his efforts to protect wild salmon fisheries in Alaska.

“I wanted to tell a story about how I came to the realization that open-net salmon farms were the most overlooked environmental hazard of our day, and how it poses a very real threat to Alaskans and our economy,” Pozonsky said. “Most of us Alaskans live in a fairy tale, thinking that we have beat back the U.S. government by taking over the management of our own fishery. My first goal was to show how Alaskans aren’t as safe as they think they are. Federal waters run right up the Cook Inlet — right in the middle of a giant commercial fishery. Federal waters also run in Chatham Straight — another important fishing area. Alaska has no say in what happens in federal waters. If and when the federal government decides to move fish farms into Alaska is anyone’s guess, but NOAA has made it very clear that they would like to drastically increase fish farms.”

Pozonsky said that all Alaskans need to do is look to their neighbors in British Columbia to see what happens to communities and wild salmon fisheries when fish farms move in. She visited Alexandra Morton, a marine biologist in Echo Bay, British Columbia. Morton told Pozonsky that the vibrant fishing community shifted from thriving to dying in just a few short years after several fish farms opened for business. The wild fishery collapsed, unemployment increased despite promises of new jobs, and fishing families were forced moved away. All of these sacrifice were made, Morton said, to develop an inferior food source.

“If people only knew what they were eating …” Morton said. “You would never go pick a cow out of a market if it had running sores and goop in the eyes and stunted growth. But that’s what they’re eating with these farmed salmon. There are all kinds of issues with them.”

The high concentrations of salmon in fish farms create a toxic environment, the marine biologist said, where bacteria and viruses thrive. Fish also are injected with hormones to promote fast growth. Disease can wipe out entire stocks of farmed fish, and since these farms aren’t one hundred percent contained, the diseases often spread to wild populations. Norwegian fish farms are a likely factor in the decimation of stocks of wild salmon in Europe. International fish farms are relatively unregulated, Pozonsky said, and untreated sewage is discharged into coastal waters around the world.

Pozonsky said another goal with the film was to show consumers why they should stop buying farmed salmon. It isn’t just a matter of health, she said, but also a major environmental concern.

“I used to not care if people ate farmed fish,” she said. “I thought it was like smoking a cigarette — up to you if you wanted to get sick or die, smoke away! However, it wasn’t until I studied the environmental devastation that fish farms create that I realized that it was insane what they were getting away with.”

In the opening of the film, Pozonsky enters a restaurant and orders a “wild Alaska salmon” dish, only to receive what she believes was clearly a fillet of farmed salmon — light in color, mushy, “disgusting,” she says to the camera, shaking her head. There are no clear-cut regulations for selling farmed fish versus wild fish, she said, and it’s a dangerous road for consumers as well as fisheries.

“Alaska’s wild salmon is the best-selling salmon; we’ve managed it beautifully,” Rep. Don Young said during an interview in the film. “It’s come back dramatically since fish farms opened in Chile. Now we have a federal agency trying to promote off-shore fish farms. NOAA was promoting this because … they want to have these control farms, raise the protein quantity. They say they can do this, but they would destroy not only a business and industry, but something very valuable to the state of Alaska and Alaska fishermen.”

Young has introduced H.R. 574, a bill that would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce from authorizing commercial fin-fish aquaculture operations in offshore waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone, until U.S. Congress passes appropriate legislation authorizing these activities. Meanwhile, Pozonsky reached out to several agencies about the issue.

“I have sent NOAA, the FDA and the EPA several e-mails attempting to get a reply from them,” she said. “At one point, a representative from the EPA was going to meet with me, but once they heard it was for a documentary, they backed out. NOAA only responded with form letters. No one sat down with me to answer any of the hard questions. No one replied to my questions. I don’t think anyone wanted to answer or just didn’t have the answer. It’s interesting that they didn’t feel the need to respond. I guess one person doesn’t matter according to NOAA.”

Pozonsky said the idea for the film came to her friend, Tracie Donahue, as Pozonsky was explaining her frustration about waging a one-woman battle against a global industry.

“She convinced me it would be simple to do,” Pozonsky said. “I had no idea what I got myself into. Three years later after enduring a millions set-backs, the film is done.”

Pozonsky conducted most of the fundraising herself and invested $15,000 of her own money into the project. “A Fishy Tale” was released on Aug. 12 and is available for viewing on YouTube. Pozonsky is also working to submit the film to various documentary film festivals and hopes to premier the film in Anchorage in December.

“As now checking on YouTube,  we have 708 people that have watched the film” she said. (That number has since risen over 800.) “That’s 708 more people I would have ever been able to share this story with without this film — so I’m already thrilled. However, I do hope everyone on the planet ends up watching it. Fish farming has got to stop dumping its hideous wastes and filling their fish with toxic crap. People need to boycott this industry or at least force a major change”

“I just want people to understand that this film wasn’t funded by any radical environmental group or some heavily funded organization — just me, a private citizen, and the people who believed in me. This is just one person’s attempt to throw light on a subject that hasn’t been getting enough press time. Open-net fish farmers need to feel the heat. They need to be pressured into farming in an environmentally responsible way. Fish farms will never change unless they are forced.”

Learn more about the film “A Fishy Tale” on the Web at www.afishytalemovie.com. Watch the film in its entirety on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvTpEj5gnxA.

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