Salmon – A Red Herring Closing the net on salmon farming

Salmon – A Red Herring


comments no comments

Salmon: A Red Herring is a thought provoking installation by London-based Cooking Sections that reflects on the impact of salmon farms on the environment and explores the deceptive reality of salmon as a colour and as a fish. It questions what colours we expect in our ‘natural’ environment and asks us to examine how our perception of colour is changing as much as we are changing the planet. 

Salmon is usually thought of as pink and the colour is even called ‘salmon pink’. However, farmed-raised salmon would be an unappetizing grayish hue if not for the synthetically derived pigment dyes (astaxanthin and canthaxanthin) in their feed to give them that appealing ‘salmon’ color. It’s a horrible and grim picture! Sorry salmon foodies.

The SalmoFan™ is a system of fifteen shades of “salmon pink’, artificial colouring that reflects consumer demands of recognisably natural colours.  It is a true ‘red herring’ to distract our attention from the real issues.  

Let’s be blunt. Farmed salmon grown in industrial-scale open net farms brings pollution and plagues of sea lice, and runoffs are threatening the future of the wild salmon. The changing colours of species around the planet are warning signs of an environmental crisis. Many of these changes result from humans and animals ingesting and absorbing synthetic substances. Changes in flesh, scales, feathers, skin, leaves or wings give us   clues to environmental and metabolic transformations around us and inside us.  

The installation Salmon – A Red Herring is displayed at the cultural institution Tate Britain and use the infinite scenes of a cyclorama (a cylinder showing a panoramic view) to tell the colourful stories of farmed salmon and the many other nonhuman lives connected with their plight through the globalised nature of industrialized food production.  

Salmon: A Red Herring is a continuation of Cooking Sections’ long-term body of work named CLIMAVORE which explores how our diet can address and respond to the climate emergency. Different from carnivore, omnivore, locavore, vegetarian or vegan diets, CLIMAVORE is not only about the origin of food, but also about the agency that food has in our response to human-induced climatic events.

Cooking Sections: Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe

Cooking Sections founders – Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe – are examining the systems that organise the world through food. Using installation, performance, mapping and video, their research-based practice explores the overlapping boundaries between visual arts, architecture, ecology and geopolitics. 

The project also engaged with 10 local restaurants including Tate’s Cafes that removed farmed salmon off their menu and introduced a CLIMAVORE dish instead, aiming to look at CLIMAVORE forms of eating that address environmental regeneration and promote more responsive aqua-cultures in an era of man-induced environmental transformations.


Changemaker Matt Mellen, founder of EcoHustler shared his experience about FREEDIVING AT A SALMON FACTORY FARM  in Scotland to call out the threat to wild salmon’s future HEREIn Dead Loss, he shares a new analysis that reveals the astonishing hidden costs of salmon farming HERE.

So what’s so bad about salmon feed with synthetically-derived pigments?   Mayo Clinic warn that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls concentrated in fish oils and fats) can pose serious health risks to people who frequently eat contaminated fish. Farmed salmon can be packed with a host of chemical contaminants—the kinds that can cause cancer, memory problems, and neurobehavioral changes in kids. Cornell research showed that PCBs, dioxins and chlorinated pesticides in farmed salmon ranged as high as 10 times that in wild salmon. The contaminants are thought to come partly from the fish’s feed: protein pellets made of fish and fish oil, which can build up toxins in the fish’s flesh. Also, tight pens can breed disease, necessitating antibiotics, and the pens are treated with pesticides against sea lice. All these additions can ultimately be transferred to our plate.

In addition to threats from industrial-scale salmon farming, they are also  leading the way to a scary new world, genetically engineered salmon known as ‘Frankenfish’ which does not have to be labelled after receiving FDA approval in late 2015 for human consumption. This long read from The Guardian on Net loss: the high price of salmon farming is a must read.

We get what we pay for since not all farmed salmon or wild salmon are created equal. There is inexpensive wild salmon, but that may be because it spent half its life in a hatchery (with farmed salmon conditions) before being released. Organically farmed salmon has more enforced guidelines to restrict pesticides and prohibited canthaxanthin in its feed.  

Wild salmon is a barometer for the health of the planet.  They offer a clear connection between marine and terrestrial ecology because salmon live part of their life in freshwater lakes and rivers and part of it in the sea. Most of what we do on land ends up impacting the ocean, but with salmon we are able to see that connection more clearly. 

For our wellbeing and the sustainable future of wild salmon, consider saving up for wild salmon from traditional artisanal fisheries, also known as small-scale fisheries. It’s better for us and the planet.

NOW Travel Diaries

Do you care about sustainability? Please leave a reply here.