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B.C. aquaculture industry urges 'balanced' approach to fish farms

Wholesale shut-down of open-net salmon farms would take supply chain with it
An Akvafuture closed-barrier salmon farm. | Akvafuture

B.C. aquaculture technology companies and suppliers, including one that builds land-based rearing systems, are urging Canada’s new Fisheries minister, Diane Lebouthillier, to take a “balanced” and science-based approach to the subject of salmon farms in B.C.

A wholesale shut-down of open-net salmon farming would be devastating for the aquaculture sector as a whole, they say, including land-based aquaculture, because there is a whole supply chain and support sector that might be lost.

“This ecosystem has evolved over 40 years of production, which includes coastal and Indigenous jobs, expertise, production of smolts (young fish), feed and nutrition suppliers, animal health practitioners and health product suppliers, scientists, transportation and retail networks, etc.,” say a group of 11 B.C. companies in a letter to Lebouthillier.

One of the 11 signatories is Akvafuture, a Norwegian company that developed a closed-barrier net-pen system and hopes to get an aquaculture licence in B.C.

“The success of introducing our innovative technologies in British Columbia relies on this investment and supply ecosystem being strong, stable and predictable," the companies say in their letter.

"Our understanding is that with recent closures, the B.C. salmon farming sector has already seen a 40 per cent reduction in production. This insecurity has already weakened the attraction and appetite for capital investment. Further closures could jeopardize the viability of the current production and supply chain, which will also jeopardize industry’s investment in our technologies in British Columbia."

One of Lebouthillier’s tasks as federal fisheries minister is to oversee a transition plan for salmon farms in B.C. – one intended to minimize or eliminate interactions between wild and farmed salmon.

Last week, a coalition of First Nation leaders, commercial fishermen, wilderness tourism operators and salmon advocacy groups staged a kind of show of force in Vancouver to demonstrate just how much opposition there is to open-net salmon farming in B.C. They want nothing less than a wholesale shut-down of open net salmon farming.

Opponents of open-net salmon farming say salmon farms can simply be moved onto land in Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS).

But while these RAS systems may work well for some fish – steelhead, for example – they don’t work so well for Atlantic salmon, except on very small scales, said John Holder, owner of JLH Consulting Inc., which has designed and built some 160 RAS systems around the world.

“What I have found, with Atlantic salmon, there are a few guys that are doing it very successfully, but they are very small,” Holder told BIV News. "For some reason, at larger scales, it becomes very technically challenging to raise large volumes of Atlantic salmon to maturity.

“Unfortunately, this is the major stumbling block we have with RAS, if they’re big. You have to be on your game.”

Holder cautions the fisheries minister from taking an either-or approach to salmon farming in B.C. He said aquaculture in B.C. should be diverse and should include both open-net and land-based systems.

“If we lost the net pen industry, RAS will never happen here,” Holder said. “Because all the infrastructure – do you think they’re going to hang around? The feed mills, the manufacturing. We still need that. We need equipment, we need mechanics, technicians.”

“A balanced approach needs to be taken to ensure success in the B.C. salmon farming industry transition,” the businesses say in their letter to the fisheries minister.

“Specifically, we ask that you continue to support the remaining ocean farms with a framework that provides long term stability through science-based environmental performance targets, so that these companies can continue to be the anchor for salmon production while investing in and deploying new technologies for innovative growth and enhanced environmental performance.”

“It is critical that these farms remain because of the foundational supply chain infrastructure and investment ecosystem that they support.”

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