Bill Taylor Commentary: Salmon Farming's Foul Record

Salmon farming’s foul record

Bill Taylor
29 Nov 2012 02:52PM

Brian Crowley’s account of aquaculture as the means to feed a growing world population ignores the serious impacts of some aquaculture practices like farming Atlantic salmon in open net cages in the ocean. He expresses his disappointment that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is not doing more to facilitate aquaculture expansion. I guess it depends on your vantage point as to your perspective. In Ottawa, it may not be immediately clear as to the impacts on the environment. Conversations with people who live in Nova Scotia, where salmon aquaculture is expanding – lobster fishermen, folks who live in coastal communities, anglers and tourism operators – would help Mr. Crowley understand the growing opposition to open net pen aquaculture and the reasons for it.

Traditional salmon farming fouls the inshore waters with fecal debris equivalent to that of thousands of people. I doubt that Jacques Cousteau would enjoy diving in these areas of sickening sludge today. A lot of people thought salmon farming was great back in 1973, when Mr. Crowley says Jacques Cousteau proclaimed we must farm the sea as we farm the land. But that was when salmon farming was just gaining a foothold in Norway. I must admit that the Atlantic Salmon Federation welcomed salmon farming as a way of constantly supplying fresh salmon to the market and thus decreasing the pressure on wild salmon from commercial fishing. But we see what has happened in actual practice, and I think that Jacques Cousteau would be horrified today by the pollution, outbreaks of disease and parasites and the impact on the Atlantic salmon’s ability to survive their migration.

Salmon densely packed and stressed in cages are a breeding ground for parasites like sea lice and viral diseases. Mr. Crowley fails to note the impact of the harsh chemical treatments for sea lice that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of lobsters here in New Brunswick and actual charges by the Department of the Environment against aquaculture industry leaders.

He fails to note the millions of taxpayer dollars used to compensate the salmon aquaculture industry in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for farmed salmon that were destroyed because poor husbandry practices and overcrowding in open sea cages led to outbreaks of infectious salmon anemia.

And, then there is the insidious permanent damage to the wild gene pool because of wild salmon interbreeding with farmed escapees, which far outnumber the threatened and endangered wild salmon that have the misfortune to live near aquaculture operations.

The impacts have been identified by Dalhousie University, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s scientists, the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s scientists and the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel to name a few (all studies can be found on the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s website at asf.ca).

And what about the recommendations of Justice Bruce Cohen as the result of a $26-million enquiry on the west coast into Fraser River salmon, initiated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper? Justice Cohen recognized the potential conflict in the mandate of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada to both develop salmon farming and protect Canada’s wild salmon. He recommended that the Government of Canada remove from the mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product. This is a far cry from the direction Mr. Crowley would have Fisheries and Oceans Canada take towards acceleration of the expansion of open net pen aquaculture.

And lastly, no mention is made by Mr. Crowley of the massive strides being made in land-based, freshwater, closed-containment aquaculture, which grows salmon and other fish completely separate from the environment. Recirculating systems reduce to a minimum the water used, and because there are no disease outbreaks and sea lice, there is no need for using harsh chemicals, disease treatments and antibiotics.

I agree with Mr. Crowley that there is room for expansion in aquaculture. However, in the case of farming Atlantic salmon, closed containment is the way to go.

Bill Taylor is president and CEO of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

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