October 28, 2008


British Columbia ecosystem threatened by farmed fish


Salmon farming campaign manager for Living Oceans, a marine conservation agency in British Columbia, Catherine Stewart explained there are no commercial fisheries left in the world for the Atlantic salmon.


Nowadays, 'Fresh Atlantic Salmon' is actually farmed and it should not be eaten until the industry cleans itself up, added Stewart.


Farming of Atlantic Salmon, a non-native species to the Pacific, originated in the ideal conditions found in sheltered inlets and bays, B.C., in the late eighties.


A Norwegian-owned company, Marine Harvest Canada is typical of the industry. During the 20-month growing cycle for salmon, the company feeds its stocks fishmeal, a combination of processed fish and fish oil that comes in the form of pellets from fish farms in Chile or Peru.


According to Alexandra Morton, a marine biologist with the Rainforest Alliance Association, the use of fishmeal requires a huge amount of energy for processing, shipping and feeding. The huge stocks of fishes could be eaten directly by humans; instead it is used as feed to other fishes.


Clare Dackman, Envrionmental Relations Director for Marine Harvest Canada said a dye-colourant, SalmoFan is often added to fish to mute the grey tint typical of the farmed species to enable them to resemble their shrimp-fed wild counterparts.


Dackman said he did not doubt the safety of the additives and that Canada has no regulations requiring a label to inform consumers of the dye. 


Despite potential uncertainties regarding the dyes, marine activists are more concerned with the environmental degradation of the B.C. coastal ecosystem. 


In 1988, the federal government transferred responsibility and oversight of fish farms to provincial governments. But Morton said there are no provincial regulations against waste dumping, and wild salmon stocks are affected by escaping and diseased farmed fish. 


He said whenever there is an issue, the provincial and federal governments will blame each other and if it went to the federal government, they would be responsible for environmental effects outside the farms.


Fish farm location poses problems because fish faeces and waste are dumped straight into the ocean and that sea lice, small marine parasites pose an even larger problem because they breed quickly in overcrowded salmon farms.  Juvenile wild salmon picks up sea lice from fish farms on their migration from river beds.


Sea lice that breed on farmed fish produce millions of eggs and the effect on wild salmon is causing a huge decline in cascading effects on the entire ecosystem, the fish are often treated with antibiotics, some of which aren't legal under Health Canada. 


Companies get emergency use permits for the antibiotics, abuse the advantage and make it into standard operating procedures.


While there is no evidence of interbreeding between the five kinds of Pacific salmon and the farmed Atlantic salmon, farmed fish escapes can hurt the wild stocks by competing for food and destroying river beds where wild salmon lay their eggs.


Dackman said his company adhered to regulations and maintained environmental sustainability measures and that as a leader in working with the regulatory community, escapes shall not be condoned.


Dackman added that she did not think regulatory oversight would change because the current system was highly comprehensive. The current provincial regulation system is the most stringent in the world and she wonders how they can further improve it.


Pamela Parker, Managing Director for Pacific Salmon Forum, a seven-person research team commissioned by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell in 2004 said the current debate over fish farms demonstrated public skepticism.


Stewart recommended a move to on-shore farms, using containers that would preserve jobs and lessen the environmental impact.


Parker said there is a tremendous number of a pressure facing wild salmon. There is over fishing, habitat destruction and climate change, therefore something must be done to fix those threats.