Seafood is big business in British Columbia, with annual exports of thousands of tons of seafood valued at millions of dollars, but the boom in net cage farmed salmon has raised continuing controversy over their effect on wild Pacific salmon.
In 2013, the latest year for which the government of British Columbia produced an annual seafood industry review, the 17,300 tons of wild salmon harvested had a landed value of $24.8 million and a wholesale value of $178.2 million, compared with 81,500 tons of farmed salmon with a landed value of $475.8 million, and a wholesale value of $594.5 million.
British Columbia’s salmon production, at 98,800 tons in 2013, increased by 13 percent over 2012 and accounted for 40 percent of all seafood production in the province, according to the provincial government’s report. Cultured salmon production, at 81,500 tons, made up 82 percent of that total salmon harvest, with a wild fisheries harvest of 17,300 tons making up the remainder of the catch.
“We are focused on growing fish the right way; creating jobs and economic development,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, based in Campbell River, on the east coast of northern Vancouver Island.
The BCSFA sees aquaculture “as a tool that can help address food security issues.”
Dunn identified the four association members growing farmed salmon as Canadian owned Creative Salmon, of Tofino, BC, a partner organization of Lions Gate Fisheries Ltd, which has investors from Japan; Cermaq Canada, part of Cermaq Global Group in Norway, a fully owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp., a multinational Japanese firm; Grieg Seafood ASA, with headquarters in Bergen, Norway; and Marine Harvest, also headquartered in Bergen, Norway, and with operations in Scotland, Canada, the Faroe Islands, Ireland and Chile.
Several environmental groups and fisheries biologists see fish farms as a threat to wild salmon.
The T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, in New Westminster, BC, has raised concerns that open net cage salmon farming is causing a host of problems for wild salmon and the ocean ecosystem. The foundation has called for closed containment systems involving a barrier between wild and farmed salmon.
And Alexandra Morton, an outspoken whale and fisheries biologist in British Columbia puts much of the blame for the demise of wild salmon on the Fraser River on fish farms. She has voiced her opinions on salmon farm in documentary films, including “Salmon Confidential,” which is available online on youtube.com.
“When you place these things (salmon farms) right on the migration route above salmon, it is like walking a child through the infectious disease ward of a hospital on their way to school,” she said. “It is exactly the same dynamic where you have a high intensity of disease and pathogens in the farm and you are allowing that to pour out into the ocean and infect wild fish.”
Ted Meyers, a fisheries pathologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, takes issue with the documentary “Salmon Confidential,” saying that it is mostly misinformation and inaccuracies.
There appears to be no near end to the controversy in sight, as more requests are filed for more salmon farms and the Canadian government wrestles with changes in its Fisheries Act and aquaculture regulations.