It’s technologically possible to raise salmon in closed containment pens but questions remain whether it’s financially viable for the aquaculture industry, says a parliamentary report released Thursday.
The report, by members of the House of Commons’ standing committee on fisheries and oceans, was delivered Thursday and included testimony from all sides of the controversial issue of closed containment aquaculture.
Pacific salmon, raised in closed pens for niche markets, command a premium price. But, if Canada is to be competitive with fish farms in other countries, Atlantic salmon have to be raised on a much larger scale to meet market demands, the report says.
The committee, which began the study in 2011, heard arguments about the environmental impacts of farming salmon in open net pens and decided the data is inconclusive. “Substantial disagreement remains among scientists as to the significance of this issue,” says the report. “Much scientific research remains to be carried out and made publicly available in order to instill greater public confidence in the environmental management of the aquaculture industry.”
Committee members also noted that closed containment will carry its own set of environmental impacts because of its carbon footprint. Recommendations to government include a study of the effect on coastal employment of a transition to closed containment.
The committee also wants to see funding for research and financial help for projects demonstrating closed containment. Government should develop a regulatory framework and an aquaculture act and, together with industry, establish a university centre of excellence to study all aspects of salmon aquaculture development, the report says.
The report has received mixed reviews, with industry representatives saying they support research and regulations even if they lead to changes in how the industry does business. “This report does a good job of covering the opportunities presented by land-based closed containment while also identifying the challenges that remain,” said Mary-Ellen Walling, B.C. Salmon Farmers Association executive director.
Clare Backman of Marine Harvest Canada, a company that recently put a closed containment project on hold because of dropping salmon prices, is pleased the committee recognized it is not economically viable to immediately replace open-net pens with closed containment.
Environmental groups are applauding some aspects, but expressing disappointment the committee sees open-net pens existing alongside closed containment, and at the lack of attention paid to environmental problems.
“It’s the best we have heard yet from the federal government, but it feels a bit behind the times,” said Ruby Berry of Georgia Strait Alliance. “It’s very disappointing that it looks as if they see closed containment as a supplement to open-net pens instead of an alternative.”
There are missing pieces, such as the lack of attention to diseases transmitted to wild salmon, Berry said. “They are moving in the right direction, but it’s not enough.”
John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation said there is also a question about how government will interpret the recommendations and whether they will act on any of them.
The only closed containment Atlantic salmon operation in B.C. is the K’udas Project, on First Nations land near Port McNeill. It’s a collaboration between ‘Namgis First Nation and the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation. Fish are scheduled to be delivered to the farm for the first time this month.
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