John Paul Fraser, executive director for the BCSFA. Image: BCSFA

Plan to close BC net pens 'flies in face of science'

Canada is in the midst of a federal election in which the Liberal party announced that if re-elected it will transition all open net fish farms to closed containment systems by 2025. With thousands of coastal jobs at risk the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) is fighting back.

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“The Liberal Party’s aquaculture platform commitment to transition from open net pen salmon farming to closed containment systems by 2025 is destructive, careless and flies in the face of making decisions about aquaculture based on science and facts,” said John Paul Fraser, executive director for the BCSFA.

“At a time when leaders should be focusing on climate change and climate action, the Liberal Party is looking to shut down the seafood farming method with the lowest carbon footprint and suggesting it transition to a technology that depends on manufactured energy. This move would have significant environmental repercussions. It would also have economic repercussions for the families of 7,000 middle-class workers in BC, negatively impacting the health and wellness of coastal communities.”

Carless step

“BC salmon farmers work in deep and respectful relationships with coastal indigenous communities, with more than 70% of the farmed salmon harvested in BC done so in partnership and with impact benefits agreements with local First Nations. The Liberal Party’s ill-advised platform commitment puts indigenous economic opportunity at risk,” added Fraser.

“This careless step by the Liberal Party also disrespects the very policy work and process that the federal Minister [Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian coast guard] has directed. Today, our industry is actively engaged in a technical working group on technology, working with all levels of government, First Nations, and non-government organizations to continue fostering technological innovation in ocean farming.”

A recipe for unemployment

Fraser continued: “While closed containment salmon farming has been successful at a smaller scale – and research and trials continue – no one in the world has successfully raised a large number of salmon in a commercial-scale land or sea-based closed containment operation. The technology is currently developing and we certainly anticipate closed containment systems will play a larger role in the future. But to forcefully mandate a five-year ‘transition’ is unachievable, especially when there is no business case or transition plan behind it. This is a recipe for industry stagnation and significant unemployment.

“Farmed salmon is BC’s top food export, recognized worldwide as a climate-friendly, sustainably-raised alternative to eating wild salmon. We didn’t get here without a lot of hard work and many lessons learned along the way. Our farmers, who put their hearts and souls into feeding families around the world, deserve much better than what they are getting from this government.”

Susanna Farquharson: Has challenged all federal election candidates to publicly reject the Liberal policy.

Meanwhile, on the east coast the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA) has called the promises to move BC farms on land made by both the Liberals and the Green Party as “nonsense”, and called on all federal election candidates to publicly reject the stance.

“The lack of knowledge behind these election promises is quite astonishing, especially from two parties that claim to be serious about taking action on climate change,” said ACFFA executive director Susan Farquharson in a statement on the Association’s website. 

“Even if it were possible to move all ocean-based farms to land by 2025 (which it’s not because the technology does not exist on that scale), such a move would bring significant environmental, fish health welfare concerns and devastating socio-economic damage in rural coastal communities.

Experts in closed containment

“Our salmon farmers are experts in closed containment because their fish spend more than half their lives in land-based hatcheries where water recirculation systems are used. Land-based technology continues to evolve (salmon farmers are the ones driving that innovation!), but at this point, the evidence is clear: the ocean is the best place for that final stage for salmon to grow from smolts to market size – just as they do in nature.

“Those who advocate moving all salmon farms from the ocean onto land need to realize that the practice of growing salmon to full maturity in tanks poses very real challenges. To grow salmon to market size and meet the global demand would require massive amounts of land, water and energy. And most importantly there are animal welfare considerations.”

33,000 acres of land 

Farquharson points out that growing BC’s average annual production of 75,000 tonnes in a 99% recirculating aquaculture system would require billions of litres of freshwater and that producing Canada’s current production of 108,000 tonnes per year in RAS would require more than 33,000 acres of land. Fish would also have to be stocked at more than twice the density that they are in net pens.

She concluded: “We are calling on all federal election candidates to stand up for Canada’s salmon farming industry by publicly rejecting these campaign promises and acknowledging the important role fish farming plays in our coastal communities. Salmon farming is one of our best hopes to bring more prosperity to the Atlantic coast while sustainably growing healthy seafood. Fish farming represents one of our region’s brightest sectors.

“We await your answer before we cast our votes.”