WASHINGTON — Every summer since 1979, Kim Hubert has fished for sockeye salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. It’s a family business in tiny Togiak that has, from time to time, also employed his wife and three children.
Hubert and his 21-year-old daughter work the nets now. They’re small permit holders who may catch and sell thousands of salmon in their nets each year, depending on the success of the run.
“We’ve got a fish camp out there. We enjoy the people and the bay and the work,” said Hubert, 58, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Eagle River. “Some years we lose a few bucks, and some years we make a few.”
They and other fishermen have been casting a wary eye on Washington, where the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based company with a lab on Prince Edward Island in Canada and growing facilities in Panama, may sell genetically engineered salmon to consumers in the United States.
More than 33,000 fishermen, environmentalists, food safety advocates and others have written to the FDA with concerns about the agency’s preliminary findings. Among the worries is that the genetically engineered fish might escape and mix with wild salmon. The company says that’s unlikely, not only because the fish are sterile but also because of its production process.
But there’s a reason that Alaska bans salmon fish farms in the state, the Sitka Conservation Society, an environmental group in southeast Alaska, said in its letter to the FDA. They fear that the company will expand to the U.S., where the fish would be closer to native salmon populations.
“These farms pollute water with concentrated fish waste and feed, spread sea lice and ultimately lead to escapement and interbreeding,” the organization said. “If genetically modified salmon are permitted, it will be only a matter of time before they are muddling the pure wild population in Alaska.”