May 4, 2021


Salmon aquaculture to expand in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, despite possible impact on wild salmon



Salmon aquaculture farming is set to expand in Canada's Newfoundland and Labrador province, despite concerns that the effort might affect wild salmon populations.


Canada's Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture is eyeing a particular tract of water on Newfoundland's south coast for future farms, which it said could contribute to economic growth in the province.


The department issued an expression of interest last October for the Bays West area, which it describes as a remote greenfield area "lacking infrastructure such as wharves, storage facilities, and roads."


Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg said, if developed, the area could produce 15,000 tonnes to 20,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic salmon annually.


Currently, salmon farming is concentrated in the Bay d'Espoir and Fortune Bay areas. Production in 2019 was 14,167 tonnes, down 6%.


The industry here has encountered hurdles and setbacks in recent years, including the salmonid anemia virus, which "when combined with unexpected mortality from high sea temperatures, contributed to the decline in overall production," according to a 2019 department report.


A single operation — Mowi's Northern Harvest Sea Farms — also saw 2.6 million fish die that year following a prolonged warm-water event.


However, those challenges haven't deterred the provincial government from setting its sights on expansion.


In another 2019 report, the department said it expects salmon production to exceed 50,000 tonnes by 2024, "as industry further develops."


Critics of the Bays West proposal and net-pen aquaculture in general point to the negatives associated with the industry. Sea lice, for instance, are endemic and a major problem for producers around the world.


Infectious salmon anaemia is a persistent issue within farmed salmon operations. This can lead to the death of salmon and early harvesting, and prompt concerns about spread to wild populations.


Salmon mortalities are high in the province, estimated at around 20% of production in 2020, according to the Fisheries Department.


Salmon farming is a major employer on Newfoundland's south coast, but the industry suffered a serious setback in 2019 with the die-off of 2.6 million fish at sites owned by Northern Harvest Sea Farms.


Mark Lane, executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, highlighted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' own stock assessment of Atlantic salmon.


"There is no data or research to conclude that aquaculture is a definitive, contributing factor for salmon decline. What we do know is that industrialisation, habitat loss, overfishing, interceptory fisheries from Greenland, St-Pierre-Miquelon ... and catch and release kills wild Atlantic salmon," Lane said.


Still, the Atlantic Salmon Federation is against the latest proposed expansion of salmon aquaculture in the province.


"Any effort to expand the industry right now is irresponsible at best, unconscionable at worst," said Neville Crabbe, executive director of communications with the conservation group.


Crabbe pointed to the high mortality rates associated with salmon farming in the province and said there are plenty of studies showing that aquaculture hurts wild stocks.