UPDATE: Nature Conservancy Supports Atlantic Farmed Salmon – Boycott Needed? No

As of today, the Nature Conservancy web site no longer shows the page referred to below. There is no mention of Mr. Jones, and a search of their listing of scientists, senior leadership, issue experts and volunteer leadership has no listing of Mr. Jones. The web site has some modifications showing the good work they are doing with aquaculture around the world, which I have always supported in the past. Since they have chosen not to communicate with me since my emails and phone conversations of two weeks ago, I am assuming that things have changed there, for what appears to be the better.

I am going to leave this original post up, because I am sure that people will wonder what happened to it if I take it down, and I want this post to show that I am asking any of you that reach this page to hold off taking any action against The Nature Conservancy until further notice. Given that The Nature Conservancy had such an interview in place for some time (weeks?) it would be good to see them post a page discussing the controversies here in the Pacific Northwest to show that there are environmental concerns we face, and are looking forward to working with the Nature Conservancy in the future to come up with solutions that can be supported by all of us.

Thanks in advance.  AL BERGSTEIN – EDITOR


The Nature Conservancy has come out in support of farmed Atlantic Salmon in their latest online and printed magazine. In an interview with aquaculture program manager Robert Jones, he states:

So can I buy farm-raised salmon?

I do. You have to compare it against every other terrestrial animal: Switching from beef to salmon or pork to salmon is a good environmental choice providing that the producer has done its job reducing the environmental impact. I think, for example, that the Norwegian industry is doing better than others. The Scottish also do a pretty good job. So, yes, I do believe that aquaculture, when done sustainably, is a smart environmental choice.”

Mr. Jones does not offer any explanation or overview of the controversy of net pens in British Columbia, Washington State, or Alaska (which has a ban on them). No mention of our Washington’s new ban on farming Atlantic salmon. No mention of massive overuse of anti-biotics to combat diseases rampant in the Pacific off Chile. Also not mentioned is the fact that Norway is shipping diseased fish embryos to North America. No mention of issues with farming shrimp around the world nor the documented slave trade of workers employed by the industry.

and https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/food/wp/2015/12/16/how-to-find-shrimp-thats-not-produced-by-slave-labor-in-thailand/?utm_term=.aab952613539

The Nature Conservancy refused to give me access to Robert before writing this article. In looking at his background on Linked In I find that Robert came from the very agency, NOAA, that has supported farmed salmon with spurious research that only looked at effects of the net pens in the waters under the pens, and ignored disease vectors, effects farther from the pens, sea lice, and the like.

Also, it appears Robert Jones has pulled his Linked In resume since my inquiries.

To be clear, I am not saying that all farmed fish is a problem. But it is clear that farming Atlantic Salmon has become a serious environmental issue in many parts of the world.

It is time to wake up The Nature Conservancy. They have allowed a person into their upper management who appears to be unable to view the environmental problems of the farmed Atlantic salmon industry with a non biased eye. Please feel free to forward this article.

Please join me and others in supporting a ban on donations to the Nature Conservancy in any form, until they change this position and offer a balanced approach to aquaculture around the world. Please call your local Nature Conservancy office and let them know you will be donating during the fourth quarter of the year to other environmental organizations. 





7 Responses

  1. Sorry, but I come down on the side in favor of TNC. True, they have challenges, not the least of which is exaggerated, sometimes malicious claims against them! At least they are trying to do something positive and have done more to take some pressure off wild salmon than I have seen any activist organization do. Yes, there is a way to increase wild salmon runs, two great examples of which have occurred within the last few years and which have had “environmentalists ” and activists wringing their hands and crying about how bad the disasters were. HINT: When you keep robbing the oceans of nutrients and never put anything back, it eventually doesn’t produce as good. At least the fish farms were feeding the fish !

    • Misreading the news, Jim. Certainly all of us support many of the efforts of TNC. However, in this case, the expectation is that the head of the aquatic programs is going to acknowledge the issues that have been raised. I might remind you that Alaska, Oregon and California all banned pen raised Atlantic salmon, for serious disease vector issues. Your belief that the farms are somehow doing something positive by ‘feeding the fish’ is very uninformed and somewhat naive view of what is coming out of those pens. You might want to do some research into the downsides of the releases of net pens, which are essentially industrial feed lots allowed in public waters.

      I assume that TNC upper management are unaware of this situation. Their PR person in WA DC tried a very amateurish way to block me talking to Jones, even though I forwarded them my questions, and the questions left it wide open for Mr. Jones to modify his statements with more background. (i.e. “Are you aware of the controversy over Atlantic net pen farming here on the west coast, with a ban supported by most commercial fishermen, the Tribes, such internationally recognized chefs as Tom Douglas, and the environmental movement? Do you have any comment on the position of these opponents of Atlantic net pen aquaculture? Do you have any thoughts on why the NC would take such an absolute stand of support for Atlantic salmon net pen farming in the face of these controversies? etc. )

      I fully expect that TNC, with a bit of pushing, will do the right thing and either replace this poorly informed person, or force him to expand his point of view. I have no idea how widespread my call for a boycott on them is going to be, but my guess is that it will effect their reputation in a way that they will be able to measure.

  2. Salmon farming seems to present a simple conundrum: it can be done profitably but not safely at sea, or safely but perhaps not profitably on land. But forces driving the issue are not simple. Some environmental groups have been complicit in condemning wild fisheries as unsustainable, rather than recognizing and encouraging sustainable fishing practices and their positive and important impact on the economic well-being of coastal communities. That position has helped empower support for ocean farming. It has also played into the political strategy of organized recreational fishing interests seeking to shift fishery regulation toward policies favoring their industry over commercial fishing. Beyond that, Jones’ current and past support for ocean farming is consistent with those in NOAA who believe dwindling wild harvests diminish NOAA’s importance within the government, exacerbated by the fact that USDA has jurisdiction over the highly profitable freshwater aquaculture business, but that influence can be restored by creating an equally important salt-water profit center under NOAA. Aquaculture, in both cases, presents as politically powerful because its lobbying interests are focused on the needs of a few large companies rather than the immensely varied interests of different wild fisheries and their small communities. The fact that there is no common national voice for proponents of wild fisheries and their communities makes matters worse. With appropriate regulation, wild fisheries can be sustainable and can sustain their coastal communities all over the country. The large national environmental groups could become their voice; it should be a natural alliance. But too many find fund-raising easier if issues are kept to simple messages. The scientific, economic and human impacts of wild fisheries are anything but simple. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. It’s a shame that the Nature Conservancy is allowing itself to be used so blatantly, but it’s not alone.

    • Bill, sorry for the delayed response. I have no idea what “environmental groups” you allude to in your comment. No environmental group I know of is saying that wild fisheries are unsustainable. You’d really need to be more specific. Most environmental groups are actually fighting for sustainable fisheries. Environmental groups didn’t come first, they are a reaction to the over fishing of the oceans, everywhere. There are many voices for wild fisheries, from chefs to the fishing industry itself. Your dislike of environmental fundraising is a sad comment to the fact that most environmental groups are vastly outspent by for profit industries. They have to fundraise to do exactly what you say they should do. Where else are they going to get their funds?

      The Nature Conservancy, I believe, made a mistake hiring Jones. They seemed ignorant of the battles going on up here in the Pacific NW. A simple look at his record, vetted by someone knowledgeable to the issue, would have known that he was unsuited for representing them. I see them as a big multinational organization, with the left hand (the east coast HQ) not knowing what the right hand (the Washington Chapter) is doing or why. Thanks for the reply though.

  3. Thought provoking for sure. TNC needs to show ability to criticize AC practices threatening to wild fisheries.

  4. Thanks. Yes. This is the background of Mr. Jones. I am not criticizing that there may be environmental projects he is engaged in that are worthwhile. That he came out of the very same NOAA department that has given nothing but carte blanche to the industry in the face of enormous concern and opposition to Atlantic salmon farming techniques. Given the ongoing boycott by such globally recognized chefs as Seattle’s Tom Douglas and local fishermen throughout the Pacific Northwest, we need an explanation of this position, or should I say, a lack of a position on it.

  5. From The Nature Conservancy:

    Robert Jones

    Global Lead for Aquaculture
    Robert Jones is the Global Lead for Aquaculture and oversees all aspects of The Nature Conservancy’s new Aquaculture Program. The program consists of active projects in seven countries designed to demonstrate the environmental, social, and economic benefits aquaculture provides for people and nature.

    Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy in February 2016, Robert served as the Program Coordinator for the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. In that position, Robert worked to develop the Agency’s new Marine Aquaculture Strategic Plan that will help guide the agency’s aquaculture activities. Previously, Robert served as Knauss Fellow with the U.S. Department of State where he served as point of contact on aquaculture and represented the United States at international fisheries negotiations in the North Pacific Ocean. Earlier, Robert served in diverse roles for NOAA Fisheries, including as an economic analyst for the Gulf Shrimp Fishery and as a Commercial Fisheries Observer in the Mid-Atlantic.

    He holds a M.S. in Marine Affairs and Policy from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science with a concentration in marine aquaculture and B.A. from Boston College in International Studies.

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