This, perhaps predictably, upset a few people, not least Icelandic anglers. As you can probably see from the comments, Mr Oliver was getting a bit of stick.
When I first saw it I was a bit confused. Confused because Jamie Oliver has long had a reputation for campaigning on animal welfare issues and this post didn’t seem to fit with that. I reached the conclusion that Jamie and his team must be unaware of the issues surrounding farmed salmon with regard to the wider environment. If they had been aware, I reasoned, they wouldn’t be talking about “sustainable” farmed salmon, since such a thing doesn’t currently exist.
Rather than jump on the band-wagon of social media shouters, I put my journalism hat on and contacted Oliver’s PR team to try to get more information.
While we waited for a reply I also contacted the Atlantic Salmon Trust to see if they could shed some light – perhaps there was some revolutionary new kind of salmon farm that we hadn’t heard of. Sarah Bayley-Slater had also seen the Facebook post and was pleased to hear that we were doing some digging. She told me that unless the farm in question was ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certified, it couldn’t be considered anything like ‘sustainable’.
Shortly after this conversation we received a statement from Jamie’s people. Here’s what it said:
We can assure you we are dedicated to responsible sourcing and go out of our way to ensure we are using the most responsible sources available to us.
We have always used a mix of wild and farmed seafood across our Jamie's Italian restaurants to help balance demand on wild stocks. We agree that there are issues with farmed livestocks of all types, which is why we make a point of visiting our suppliers so we can check they're adhering to our high standards.
This particular farmer is working very closely with environmentalists to assess its impact on the environment, and operates without using any chemicals or antibiotics. We are very aware that not all fish farms are the same, which is why we go to such lengths to assess our suppliers, and only work with people who share our views and ethos.
While this is all sounds good and makes the right kind of noises, it wasn’t quite the detailed answer that we were hoping for. It was long on PR and short on detail, so
I sent a somewhat fiery first draft of this piece to the PR department, outlining some of the issues that we felt needed to be answered with regard to this ‘sustainable salmon’, and after that they kindly agreed to a phone call.
It transpires that the farm in question is one operated by a company called Arnalax. While they are not ASC certified they do at least pay lip service to some of the issues – they operate a low density stocking policy and don’t use chemical treatments, and do their best to minimise the impact of waste food and faeces. But there remained a number of issues that we wanted to get to the bottom of: sealice; escaping fish; etc.
What transpired was a very interesting video conference between FishingTV and Jamie Oliver’s Head of Technical, Daniel Nowland. He’s the one responsible for ensuring that all the products in the Oliver Empire meet the expectations of customers.
We talked about the problems that salmon farming poses, with particular reference to wider the impact on the wider environment and wild fish stocks, and it was clear that Daniel was listening and taking on board what we were saying. One thing that we were able to emphasise was just how potentially damaging any sea-based salmon farming is, and the importance of the Icelandic salmon fishery as a last stronghold for wild Atlantic Salmon.
To have expected Daniel to have detailed knowledge of the risks involved with farmed salmon would have been unfair. However it was clear that the extent of some of these problems came as news to him. To his great credit, and that of the Jamie Oliver organisation, Daniel was extremely open to the points that we were making, and I think it probably isn’t stretching things too much to say that he ended the call with food for thought. It was he who drew a parallel between salmon farming the Jamie Oliver’s campaigns to address animal welfare and sustainability in the poultry and pork industries. We may not have convinced them to ditch the farmed salmon altogether just yet, but we feel like we made progress in that direction.
Perhaps most encouragingly Daniel also asked if we would mind being consulted on matters around seafood sustainability in the future, to which we heartily agreed.
He also made it clear that at this stage they have made no deals with Arnalax and that they have not even decided whether farmed salmon will feature on the menu. Let’s hope, for the good of Icelandic wild salmon, that they look at some other alternatives.
It just goes to show that just as Churchill famously said, “Jaw–jaw is better than war-war.”