At gas stations in central European towns known for their goulash, salmon sushi rolls sit in black plastic containers, peering out from under clear covers in refrigerator cases next to blended coffee drinks. Before the salmon made its way to the gas stations, it almost certainly lived in farms situated in the chilly coastal waters of Norway, Scotland, or Chile.
Nearly all of the salmon we eat — from gas station sushi to luxurious salmon steak — started life in such farms. The business of raising salmon on farms started 50 years ago in Norway after overfishing made Atlantic salmon scarce. Norway, still the largest player, now faces competition from countries with weaker environmental regulations, like Scotland. Scotland enjoys the unique fortune of being a place that most people know so little about that when promoted as an oasis of whisky, craggy rocks, pristine waters, and briny foggy sunsets, people believe the story.
Along Scotland’s western coastline, multinational corporations raise salmon for European, American, and Asian customers, whose thirst for the fish’s luscious pink meat seems unquenchable. The industry is set to grow 5 percent this year, and Scotland’s boutique brand all but assures it a slice of that business. Salmon-farm companies and government ministers who approve the farms’ operation bet that the risks of this highly industrial farming operation can be mitigated. Yet they are running into intense opposition from people who live near the salmon farms. Locals say the cheap sushi found in European gas stations and the luxurious salmon steaks in Shanghai hotels are being cultivated at the expense of their health, their environment, and ultimately our planet.
This tussle between global salmon growers and local Scots burst out into the open last year after the BBC ran a documentary painting the industry as rapacious and disinterested in the locals’ concerns. And while the activists do indeed reserve the bulk of their anger for the individuals who run the farms and their backers in government, they have a message for American consumers: Please stop enabling this sullying of our environment via your seafood purchases.