The following commentary appears on PRI's Living on Earth
Uncle Sam walks into a fish restaurant, takes off his star-spangled hat and asks the waiter what's on special.
"Today we have a genetically modified Atlantic salmon spliced with a Pacific salmon growth gene and modulated by a regulator protein from an ocean pout,"
"Um, ok. Anything else?"
"Not much I'm afraid. Just a wild sockeye from the pristine, unpolluted waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. What'll it be?"
If you were in Uncle Sam's seat, you'd surely choose the wild salmon over the modified one. But our government, forever at odds with itself when it comes to figuring out the puzzle of the American seafood supply is leaning towards the transgenic. At this very moment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is close to approving an engineered Atlantic salmon that grows twice as fast as an unmodified fish. If North America's existing salmon farms all switched to growing modified animals, we could have about a quarter of a billion more pounds of salmon in the market every year. Sounds good on the surface but seen in the larger context of American fisheries it doesn't make much sense. While the government seeks to boost farmed salmon supplies through transgenics, it is simultaneously letting wild salmon go to pot. At the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, the spawning grounds of the most productive wild salmon runs left on earth, the international mining giant, Anglo-American, plans to construct "Pebble Mine"--the largest open-pit copper and gold mine in the U.S. Mines of this nature are notoriously bad for fish. Just two months ago a copper mine failure in China's Ting River killed millions of fish. A similar disaster in the Bristol Bay fishery could mean the destruction of around a quarter of a billion pounds of salmon, curiously, about the same amount of salmon that Aqua Bounty hopes to produce with its transgenic fish. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the power to stop Pebble Mine through the Clean Water Act but has so far failed to act. More transgenic fish, less wild fish. You have to scratch your head at a government that's planning that kind of seafood menu for its citizens. Instead of endorsing a risky experiment in genetic salmon modification wouldn't it be better if our leaders protected wild salmon habitat? In the end we'd have just as much fish on our plates and a safer environment to boot. Personally I'd hate to go into a restaurant and have a transgenic fish be the only salmon option on the menu. If that ends up being the case, I might end up just ordering the chicken.