Genetically altered salmon offer good, bad prospects

Altered salmon offer good and bad prospects

December 29, 2012
A photo released by AquaBounty Technologies compares the size of its genetically engineered AquAdvantage Salmon (background) with that of an Atlantic salmon of the same age. - Associated Press

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is nearing approval of a genetically altered salmon that could make its way into restuarants and markets sometime in the new year.

The question is, at least for me, if this happens, what will the long-term effects be on the wild salmon populations?

It’s no secret that salmon populations are down thanks to heavy fishing coupled with the placement of dams on many of the natural salmon runs.

But will this genetically altered salmon – which grows at twice the rate of natural salmon – help solve this problem.

Yes and no.

The new fish, which is officially called the AquaAdvantage salmon and nicknamed the “Frankenfish” by its critics, would certainly help ease the need to overfish wild salmon populations by adding a new, fast-growing alternative to fill our desires for fresh fish – if it is deemed safe for human consumption.

This would be a win for wild salmon anglers.

On the other hand, I shudder to think what could happen if a large group of these fish escaped into the wild – as happened here in the United States with Asian carp.

Unlike Asian carp, which were brought here in the 1970s by fish farmers to clean up algae in their catfish ponds, most of the AquaAdvantage salmon produced are sterile. Hence, if they escape into the wild, they will not be expected to take over for the native species.

Notice, however, that I say most of them are sterile. Not all, most.

And therein lies the problem.

As we saw with Asian carp, which were not expected to escape into the wild, the unexpected can happen.

In the case of the Asian carp, it was flooding of nearby rivers that allowed them to escape into the Mississippi system. They are now threatening the Great Lakes.

With these new salmon, even if they are unable to reproduce in the wild, the introduction of a fast-growing species would certainly have an effect on other species. After all, quick growth requires plenty of food.

• The Pennsylvania Game Commission is offering tree and shrub seedlings to landowners from Jan. 7 through April 19.

New this year is an improved order form to help guide landowners seeking to create habitat for specific wildlife species, as well as a new “bundle” offering. Bundle offerings include 100 seedlings in a specified mix to benefit deer, game birds and songbirds, as well as riparian and winter-thermal habitats.

The order form and information are available on the commission’s website ( at the “General Store” are in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then clicking on “Howard Nursery” in the drop-down menu listing and scrolling down and choosing “2013 Seedling Order Form.”

Cost for seedlings, which are packaged in bundles of 25, is as low as $3.75 per bundle. Orders of 12 more total units receive discounted pricing. The new bundles for deer, game birds and songbirds and winter-thermal habitats sell for $25; the riparian habitat bundle sells for $30.

Outdoors editor F. Dale Lolley can be reached at



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