Comment: Challenges of land-based fish farms must be part of the debate

Re: “Why land-based fish farms work,” comment, Oct. 21.

‘Namgis First Nation hereditary chief and chief councillor Donald Svanvik recently questioned some information I put forward (“UBCM stacks deck against salmon farming,” Sept. 9). I’d like to take that as an invitation to engage in further dialogue about ocean-raised salmon in B.C.

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We are both passionate about wild salmon and the jobs salmon farming supports. One in five people working for a B.C. salmon farmer is of First Nations heritage. A 2017 study found B.C.’s salmon farming industry supported 6,600 jobs in 2016, up 33 per cent from three years earlier.

Beyond the jobs, the food salmon farming provides is important. Almost three-quarters of the salmon harvested in B.C. each year is raised on farms. It provides a sustainable alternative to eating wild fish, which are under tremendous pressure from overfishing, climate change and loss of habitat.

Globally, more than half of all fish humans eat comes from farms, and the UN reports that has to increase to relieve pressure on wild-fish species and meet growing demand as we move toward 10 billion people by 2050.

On these key points there is agreement.

We differ, however, in our perspectives on the impacts of salmon farming and the potential for moving out of the oceans to a land-based industry.

The science tells us that ocean-based farms and wild fish can coexist successfully. Our industry is responsibly managing issues such as sea lice to ensure we minimize any impacts on wild fish or the environment.

There is no question that land-based aquaculture is part of the solution to meet growing global demand. I say this because some of B.C.’s land-based operations are already succeeding at this. Several are members of our association.

There is also an opportunity to advance more closed-containment systems in the ocean to complement the expansion in aquaculture needed to meet growing human demand.

Canada’s minister of fisheries and oceans — happily, our first from the West Coast in 16 years — is calling for an open feasibility review focused on bringing higher levels of closed containment technology into our operations. I strongly welcome this. Ocean farmers are innovators, by nature and in nature.

So, my concern is not with land-based aquaculture. It’s with arguments that say it forms the entire solution, and not just an important part of it.

And, further, I object to any suggestion that I was misleading in expressing this concern. The data I put forward about the environmental impacts of moving salmon farms onto land come from an international, publicly available study done just last year by the International Salmon Farmers Association, citing no fewer than 16 other studies and reports and drawing on information provided by 13 organizations around the world.

What these and other new studies coming to light show is the act of moving all farms from ocean to land — as some advocate — carries with it environmental challenges in the use of significant amounts of land, water and electricity that cannot be ignored. Nor should we ignore the job impacts that would surely follow if British Columbians, from Indigenous and coastal communities, could no longer safely raise salmon in our waters.

I thank Chief Svanvik for keeping this conversation going. And I hope, one day, to sit down with him in person to do so.

John Paul Fraser is executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

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