At Patagonia, before we started our environmental assessment program and began leading “an examined life,” we blindly made our clothes like every other apparel company. In the spring of 1988, we retrofitted an old building in Boston on Newbury Street and opened our third Patagonia store. Within days, our employees there began complaining of headaches during their shifts. An air quality analysis found that the building’s ventilation system was simply recycling the same air, and that the formaldehyde and other chemicals used on our cotton T-shirts to prevent shrinkage and wrinkling was poisoning our staff.
Most other garment companies at the time would have fixed the ventilation and closed their minds to the formaldehyde problem. But that incident bothered us enough that we began working with select growers and processors to create an organic cotton supply for our products. Along the way, we found out a great deal about what goes into making our clothes. We helped form the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to trace every step in making an article of clothing so that we can make intelligent decisions and cause less harm to ourselves and to the planet. We now know how much water goes into making a T-shirt (703 liters, or a day’s drinking water for 234 people). But we also know what kind of water – fossil water from old aquifers, irrigated water from impounded rivers or natural rainwater – is used in the process. By 1996, we had converted our entire sportswear line to 100 percent organically grown cotton. Sure, it cost more. But this decision kept thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals out of the environment. It’s one of our greatest success stories.
Now we want to bring the same kind of changes to the salmon-fishing industry.
Wild Pacific Salmon have fed humans – in both body and spirit – for 10,000 years. We have always found comfort in knowing salmon will return from the sea, season after season. But unless we can change destructive practices within the salmon industry, their return grows more doubtful every year.
Salmon used to be caught in the rivers during huge spawning runs that once filled rivers from Southern California to the Alaskan Arctic. Native American tribes along the shore would catch only what they needed and then allow the remaining salmon to go through for the next tribe, all the way into Idaho and Montana. But today, too many endangered stocks are dwindling under the pressures of indiscriminate harvesting and unsustainable fish-farming techniques.
If you catch a salmon in the ocean, you really don’t know where that fish came from. If it’s a sockeye, it may have come from the Fraser River in British Columbia where there was a run of 25 million fish last year (just 12 percent of what the run used to be). But that fish may have also come from a tributary of the Fraser where there are only 20-50 fish left. Or it could be a coho or Atlantic salmon that escaped from a fish farm, and is now loaded with dioxins, antibiotics, fungicides and other chemicals used to “clean” net pens. It could be a Chinook salmon from a hatchery, with all its attendant dumbed-down-gene-pool problems. How does the fisherman know – or the consumer? Unless you catch a salmon in its natal river, you don’t know where it came from.
The Patagonia Provisions Salmon Project is our effort to change the fishing industry, the same way we’ve changed how we make our clothes. Our goal is to create a new model that demonstrates how selectively harvesting salmon is not only possible, but good business, and can help protect the future of wild salmon. Working with SkeenaWild, a Canadian fish conservation organization, Patagonia has identified sustainable, in-river fisheries that use tangle-tooth nets, beach seines and traditional First Nations fish wheels and dip nets. These selective-harvest techniques produce higher quality fish and, most importantly, allow non-target species to survive and spawn. Our salmon provisions come only from fully mature fish, caught in their prime in the river where they were born, and caught upstream of any tributaries that may have endangered runs.
Whether creating a cotton T-shirt or a package of salmon jerky, we believe in following our resources all the way to their origin, so that we cause no unnecessary harm in doing business. You should demand to know where Patagonia Provisions products come from, the same way you should know where your clothes come from and how they’re made. In fact, we think you should be able to ask the same questions about anything you buy.