Yurok Tribe Bans GMO Fish 12/26/2015
The Yurok Reservation is now a GMO-free zone after the tribal council approved what is claimed to be a first of its kind ordinance for tribal nations throughout the country. Implemented on Dec. 10 after several months of discussion, the ordinance was approved with “pretty unanimous support” among tribal members, according to Yurok Tribal Chairman James Dunlap. “Our main concern is preserving the natural strains,” Dunlap said. “ … We’d rather take the proactive approach in getting to a prevention measure rather than waiting until something happens and having to deal with it in a crisis mode.”
The tribe’s Genetically Engineered Organism Ordinance prohibits propagation, raising, growing, spawning, incubating, or releasing genetically engineered organisms and took effect immediately upon passage. Any violations could lead to fines of $3,000 or more depending on the scope of the damage. The ordinance is also a response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision in November to approve an application for the sale of genetically modified Atlantic salmon as food in the United States.
In its Nov. 19, the FDA approved AquaBounty Technologies’ controversial application for their AquAdvantage Salmon — a genetically modified salmon that reaches market size more quickly than unmodified Atlantic salmon. This decision marked the first time the FDA approved a genetically engineered animal intended for food, according to the FDA’s Nov. 19 news release. Under the FDA’s decision, the salmon cannot be bred or raised in the U.S. and requires multiple, redundant barriers in the breeding tanks and plumbing to prevent any eggs or fish from escaping. Instead, the salmon are raised in FDA-overseen stations in Canada and Panama.
The FDA states that the AquAdvantage Salmon are also sterile, “so that even in the highly unlikely event of an escape, they would be unable to interbreed or establish populations in the wild,” according to the FDA news release. Dunlap views these federal oversight and protection requirements as well intended, but states the tribe would rather place an overall ban on the product rather than risk the “unexpected consequences.” “What are the consequences of them not fulfilling that promise?” Dunlap asked.
The California Legislature did not want to take the risk either. In September 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a Assembly Bill 504 authored by former North Coast Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) that banned the commercial production, and stocking of genetically altered, non-native salmon in state waters. “If these ‘Frankenfish’ were to escape into our waters, they could destroy our native salmonid populations through interbreeding, competition for food and the introduction of parasites and disease,” Chesbro had said in a September 2014 statement.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist Sara Borok said that neither of the state’s two fisheries in the Klamath River Basin — Iron Gate Fish Hatchery and Trinity River Hatchery — produce genetically modified fish.
“We don’t have anybody in the area producing any GMO fish,” Borok said. This non-GMO status also applies to all state-overseen fish hatcheries in the state, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan. The tribe’s ordinance gives those entities already producing genetically modified organisms within their reservation a 12-month grace period to transition to GMO-free production. Dunlap said there is currently no known GMO production within the tribe’s territory.
Humboldt County voters also approved a countywide GMO ban in November 2014 through Measure P. Under the initiative, all GMO production in the county must cease and all existing GMO products are required to be destroyed or disposed of by Jan. 1, 2016.
Dunlap said that the tribe’s ordinance is part of a larger effort to restore the ecological balance on tribal lands, which will also address forest, wetland, and prairie restoration. In the meantime, Dunlap said the Yurok Tribe is currently working to bring forward an ordinance regulating pesticide usage.