Net pens in Alaska used for growing salmon that are released into the wild.

‘False’ anti-salmon farming billboards removed in Canadian capital

In an age of misinformation, we are pleased that the right thing happened, says aquaculture alliance chief

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Anti-salmon farming billboards around the Canadian capital Ottawa have been removed after the country's salmon sector presented evidence that the statements made on them was untrue.

The billboards displayed claims from eco-activist group Wild First that “Open-net pen salmon farms are banned in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska” and called on the federal government to “remove all salmon farms from BC waters”.

The City of Ottawa requires that billboards and advertising are truthful, and there are federal laws regarding truth in advertising.

After receiving a letter of complaint from the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) which pointed out that salmon farming is not officially banned in Washington, Oregon, or California, the advertising agency responsible removed the billboards.

The CAIA also pointed that although Alaska bans farming finfish all the way to harvest size, the state’s aquaculture program grew approximately 1.9 billion juvenile salmon in a combination of land-based hatcheries and ocean-based net pens in 2022. The fish are reared in marine net pens for approximately five months before being released into the wild in late spring to supply the commercial fishing industry and sport angling sector.

Cancelling livelihoods

“In an age of misinformation, we are pleased that the right thing happened – false ads that did not stand up to the truth test were removed,” said CAIA president and chief executive Tim Kennedy. “Activists with deep pockets who don’t live or work where our salmon farmers live and work are trying to drive policy decisions in Ottawa that would cancel people’s livelihoods using a storyline based on old data and false information.

Tim Kennedy: "Ads that did not stand up to the truth test were removed."

“These anti-salmon billboards included statements by the activist group Wild First that were both false and potentially economically harmful to British Columbia businesses and organisations and their employees that the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance represents. Modern, sustainable, in-ocean salmon aquaculture is the second biggest agri-food export in British Columbia and key to the blue economy future for people living in rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities.”

Washington State’s public lands commissioner, Hilary Franz, has imposed a de facto ban on net pen finfish farming by refusing to renew leases for sites operated by Canadian family-owned finfish farmer Cooke Aquaculture.

After a public announcement by Franz that she was “banning net pens from state waters forever”, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Indu Thomas ruled in October that the so-called “Franz ban” was, in fact, a political announcement that has no legal weight. Rather, it is an “internal policy directive to initiate rulemaking concerning commercial net pens in Washington State waters”.

Franz’s second and final term as public lands commissioner has less than a year to run, which could potentially open the door for change of policy.

There is no regulatory ban on net pen aquaculture in Oregon, and California regulations states that “the commission may lease state water bottoms or the water column to any person for aquaculture, including, but not limited to, marine finfish aquaculture”. However, administrations in both states have historically not been in favour of the sector.

Two examples of net pens in Alaska.