The FDA is considering approving genetically engineered, or GE, salmon to be sold in the U.S. It has sparked renewed protests by opponents of genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s. Sen. Mark Begich on Thursday introduced two bills in the US Senate that would ban these new salmon. Sitka held a demonstration at Crescent Harbor on Saturday.
About 100 people rallied in Sitka to protest what they see as the first step in introducing scientifically modified animals into the American diet. For Southeast Alaska, it’s especially worrisome because the area depends largely on fishing for its livelihood.
Lance Preston owns and operates a boat called, “The Sea Boy” in Sitka. He’s made a living as a fisherman since 1993 and says these new fish could bankrupt Alaska.
Commercial fishing is the number one employee in the entire state,” said Preston, “and the vast majority of those jobs are salmon jobs, so it’s really the economic engine of the state. It’s a big deal. You know, it could put the state out of business. You’ll watch the population decline and suffer.”
Nicknamed “frankenfish” by critics, this new fish is an Atlantic salmon developed with an added growth hormone from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that activates the growth hormone. While a natural Atlantic salmon reaches 28-30 inches long and 8-12 pounds after two years at sea, the new GE salmon will reach that in half the time.
Protesters Saturday said they’re worried the genetically engineered salmon could escape aquatic farms and crossbreed with wild fish.
The company behind developing this new hybrid is called AquaBounty. It’s a biotech company in Massachusetts that formed in 1991 and has spent nearly $70 million since it started. It claims that the fish are not a threat to wild stocks, and that the genetic modifications are no greater than changes that occur naturally in species.
UPDATE: 2/13/2013 — The FDA has decided to extend the comment period through April 26.