October 21, 2019


Organisations voice support for Canadian aquaculture's transition to closed systems in British Columbia



Canada's open net pen fish farms are harming wild salmon and is causing "an unacceptable fish to keystone species and everyone and everything that rely on it," individuals and parties from various organisations and foundations said in an open letter published October 20.    

The letter's authors include Tony Allard, president of Hearthstone Investments Ltd., Michael Audain, chairman of Audain Foundation, and Ross Beaty, president of Sitka Foundation.


"Environmental sensibility and ecological responsibility are winning out over a regime where predominantly Norwegian multinationals come to our waters to pollute for free," the letter stated, highlighting the Canadian government's pledge to "transition open net pen fish farms on the (British Columbia) coast to completely closed (likely land based) systems."


"When the two populations (farmed Atlantic/wild Pacific salmon) occupy the same seawater, but are separated only by a net, parasites and viruses pass freely from farmed to wild fish," the letter noted.


It also pointed to waste generated by net pen farms that create "a dead zone on the ocean floor much larger than the surface footprint of the farm itself." In addition, sea lice which breed in significant numbers at the farms "attach to out-migrating wild smolts, before those smolts have grown protective scales, and literally eat the smolts alive."


The letter went on to blame net pen farms for causing the spread of viruses like Piscine Orthoreovirus "which causes jaundice and anemia in wild Pacific salmon, notably including our endangered Chinook."


"Ecologists have been sounding the alarm for decades and in 2012, the federally appointed Cohen Commission found that "the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible"," the letter added.


"Justice Cohen further stated that the precautionary principle (enacted in the 1990s after we obliterated the Cod in Atlantic Canada) requires removal of open net pen salmon farms from the BC coast unless firm new evidence can be provided refuting evidence of the harm they cause."


The letter noted of salmon farmers' inclination to blame low salmon returns on global warming. 


"We partially agree – global warming has put our salmon under serious stress. But it is asking far too much to require wild salmon to swim up-river in debilitating hot water, and then add, "By the way, you have to do this while suffering from a serious blood disease"," the letter said.


Currently, salmon in British Columbia is facing more risk "than Atlantic Canada and all other salmon farming jurisdictions."


The letter added: "…we have millions of Atlantic salmon in open pens on the migratory routes of wild Pacific salmon. Recognising this risk, the BC Provincial government has said it will not renew or issue new farm tenures after 2021 unless the fish farmers can prove "no harm" to wild Pacific salmon- something we don't think they can do."


The letter also addressed the negative response from fish farming multinationals in regards to the transition. According to the letter, these parties resist the need for transition by pointing to "inconclusive science" and that sustainable aquaculture is not commercially viable. 


"Global venture capital is excited by and committed for this new, clean, green, truly sustainable form of aquaculture, which keeps wild, and farmed fish separate, and that operates in recirculating systems on land," the letter continued.


"In fact, the build up is happening now. BC has many natural advantages, but we if we dither for much longer we risk being left behind."


The letter stated that it is supporting a change in the way aquaculture operations are conducted, not demanding for its demise in British Columbia.


"The annual gross revenue to BC from all of the 115-plus net pen tenures is less than $2 million - the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria per farm site. And the employment provided by open net farming in BC is substantially less than the employment provided by the wild salmon economy which includes sports fishing, commercial fishing and processing and tourism - all of which depend on the survival of wild salmon," the letter said.


It concludes its argument by calling for a "clean, green, truly sustainable aquaculture, which can grow in BC."


"Let's transition the pens, retrain employees, and put incentives in place to site sustainable farms in the same communities that currently supply these workers. We hope to be on the verge of sprouting a better industry that's higher tech and higher value, protects and upgrades jobs, and protects a threatened iconic species. It's a win-win-win," the letter said.


- Castlegar News