Columnist’s salmon farming suggestion threatens good, sustainable Vancouver Island jobs

It is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, according to the science.

Columnist’s salmon farming suggestion threatens good, sustainable Vancouver Island jobs

Robert Barron’s recent column about moving B.C.’s salmon farming on land is founded on misinformation that needs addressing.

His solution of moving salmon farms on land threatens good, sustainable jobs and removing the bulk of the salmon harvested in B.C. each year from our plates.

And, it is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, according to the science.

The over-riding assumption that salmon farms are harmful to wild salmon just does not stand up to facts. The large body of science tells us that wild and farmed salmon can successfully co-exist in the ocean as long as salmon farmers act responsibly — as B.C.’s farmers do.

The column points to sea lice as an example of why salmon farms should be moved on land.

In fact, sea lice are actually an example of how B.C.’s salmon farms have effectively addressed an issue — the kind of issue every industry must tackle to continue operating in a modern, responsible manner.

Farmed salmon are placed into ocean pens from land-based hatcheries without sea lice, which are a naturally-occurring parasite affecting many kinds of fish. Salmon on farms pick them up in the ocean.

If populations of sea lice on a farm got too high it could become an issue, so federal guidelines require farmers to keep sea lice levels low. In order to do that, our members have invested millions of dollars in technology and equipment managing their levels.

One farmer, for example, has invested $12 million in a new live-aboard barge that pulls up beside farms and lifts the salmon into an onboard pool, where sea lice are knocked off with water pressure before the salmon are placed back in the farm.

It is an issue that regulators and the industry are on top of.

Our salmon farmers have addressed every issue like this that has been raised — through research, investment, new technology, and training.

Doing so allows us to provide an important food. It may not be common knowledge that B.C.’s salmon farmers raise almost three-quarters of the salmon harvested in B.C. each year, a sustainable, reliable supply that grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses like smoked salmon producers rely on.

The industry also supports thousands of Vancouver Island families with good jobs, many of them held by young First Nations people with deep ties to their environment and the coastal communities in which they grew up.

Working to add more land based farming is a good idea. But mandating a move to land-based salmon farming as the column suggests would be legislating our industry out of business, ending all of these benefits.

For one thing, replicating large, ocean environments in concrete tanks to grow large numbers of fish is technically challenging and hasn’t been successfully accomplished anywhere in the world — at least not yet.

Even if we figured that out, moving all the salmon raised on farms in Canada to land would require us to pave over about 159 square kilometers of land for concrete pools, and then filling those pools with about four billion litres of fresh water. We’d also have to use huge amounts of electricity to replicate natural ocean currents.

Those are significant environmental downsides that need to be considered.

As the column points out there are some smaller land-based aquaculture operations around the world, a few of them here in B.C.

As we work to keep feeding a hungry world, however, shutting down a vibrant, green Vancouver Island industry that employs thousands of our neighbours and provides most of the salmon harvested in B.C. isn’t the answer.

Dialogue and progress, founded on good science and openness, is.

John Paul Fraser

Executive director, BC Salmon Farming Association

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