"Frankenfish:" An Environmental Monster in the Making

The winter issue of Trout magazine, (Trout Unlimited's quarterly publication), writer Susan Q. Stranahan gives a detailed and sobering glimpse at the issue of genetically modified salmon, also known as "Frankenfish," which could impact wild fisheries.

From a TU press release:
_For the last 15 years, AquaBounty, the Massachusetts-based company that is seeking FDA approval to create and sell biotech salmon, has been working on creating a fast-growing salmon by combining the genes of a Chinook salmon and an ocean pout--an eel-like fish. In September, an FDA staff analysis concluded that the genetically-modified salmon is safe to eat and poses little harm to the environment.

However, as the Trout magazine article notes, that decision was made by an agency with little expertise in biology or fisheries management. "…It's like asking the Department of Interior to help figure out the Troubled Asset Relief Program," says TU CEO Chris Wood.

__TU and its 140,000 members have strongly objected to AquaBounty's request for FDA approval and have asked for a full environmental impact statement in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We must be assured that this decision to modify salmon genetics be grounded in science," said Jack Williams, TU's senior scientist. "The FDA was designed to regulate food and drugs, not salmon populations and fisheries around the world," Williams said. "And this one decision could change wild salmon fisheries around the world forever.

The article points out that confinement of genetically modified salmon where they are raised is the lynchpin on which this entire plan hinges. Anne R. Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth College and a co-editor of "Methodologies for Transgenic Fish,"says in the article that AquaBounty's plan "brings the risk of escape [from these two facilities] down to zero."

But, she says that there is a critical question that has yet to be answered. "Who will ensure confinement as the use of these fish proliferate in global markets?" she asks. "That's the question to ask."

And right now, nobody seems to know how that oversight would occur. Buyers of the genetically modified eggs will have to sign contracts with AquaBounty guaranteeing the fish will be raised in carefully confined conditions. In overseas markets, enforcement of those contractual guarantees would be left to the appropriate foreign authorities._

The scary thing is, we don't know where it will end. Genetically modified trout are purportedly next on the agenda. In my mind, it doesn't make any sense at all to risk wild fisheries in the search of superfish... and when that genie escapes from the bottle, there will be no putting it back.

What do you think? Theoretically, if someone could bio-engineer trout to grow twice as fast, fight like tarpon, and taste like lobsters, would you favor that? Or do you think it's better to leave well enough alone?