NL Aquaculture Industry Protests Too Much

THE COASTER, Harbour Breton,  NL

NL Aquaculture Industry Association “Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks”
Published on January 30, 2013

Opinion - Bill Taylor, President, Atlantic Salmon Federation

Just when I think the blind support by government and industry for farming salmon in open net pens in the ocean has reached its pinnacle, I read Miranda Pryor’s piece on behalf of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, published in the Harbour Breton Coaster on January 14, 2013.

The “family-owned fish farm” that most recently was reported to have an outbreak of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) at its site in Pot Harbour belongs to Cooke Aquaculture, a company that has operations in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Maine, Chile and Spain, according to its website.

In 1996, outbreaks of ISA, a highly contagious disease, required the slaughter and industrial disposal of millions of farmed salmon in southwest New Brunswick. From 1997 to 2000, 73 more sites became infected. In 2003, 2.7 million fish were killed as a result of the ISA epidemics sweeping through the waters. In 2007, 528,000 fish needed to be destroyed.

In 2001, 2.5 million infected fish in Cobscook Bay, Maine, were killed, followed by other outbreaks in 2002 and 2003 that killed at least another 150,000 salmon.

In 2012, ISA epidemics hit aquaculture operations in Shelburne and Liverpool Bay, NS and Butter Cove and Pot Harbour NL, resulting in the slaughter of more than a million farmed salmon.

Since ISA outbreaks in eastern Canada began, more than $100 million of taxpayers’ dollars have been used to compensate fish farmers for having to kill ISA-infected salmon that were grown out in open net pens in the ocean.

Outbreaks of ISA in Chile have resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of fish. Chile is now trying to rebuild its industry, but outbreaks continue to occur.

While ISA is rarely seen in wild fish, it reaches epidemic proportions when thousands of fish are confined within small spaces. The same is true of sea lice. Open net pen cages are the perfect breeding grounds for both. I think this should give everyone an understanding that results in deep concern with “the reality of fish farming practices and fish health regulations” to which Ms. Pryor refers.

The “internationally recognized certification” of salmon aquaculture practices to which Ms. Pryor also refers is industry-led, not an endorsed, arms-length, third party certification that takes environmental impacts into account.

Why should society accept and shut up about millions of taxpayers’ dollars being paid as compensation for ISA-destroyed salmon, when money can be better spent investing in more environmentally-sustainable grow out operations, such as closed containment? Feasibility studies, like the one ASF supports at The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute (see background at www.asf.ca) are proving that salmon can be grown completely separate from the natural environment with no detection of pathogens or sea lice in the system. The technical and economic feasibility analysis of a commercial-scale operation indicates that the capital cost would be higher in closed containment operations than in open net pen operations, but the operating costs would be about the same or less, even with the expense of treating wastes – something the open net pen systems simply allow to fall unchecked into the ocean. The operating costs associated with farm escapes and treatments for disease and sea lice are eliminated in closed containment systems. When you take into account the significant cost reflected in negative impacts to the environment and industries dependent on its health (such as sport fishing, lobster fishing and tourism), closed containment becomes the grow-out method of choice among concerned fish buyers and consumers.

Contrary to Ms. Pryor’s statement, Justice Cohen did make references in his report on Fraser River Sockeye in BC that are relevant to Atlantic Canada. One of Justice Cohen’s applicable comments was his recognition of the potential conflict in the mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to both develop salmon farming and protect Canada’s wild salmon. He recommended that the Government of Canada remove from the mandate of DFO the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product. Endangered and threatened wild Atlantic salmon in southern Newfoundland, in the inner and outer Bay of Fundy and along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia are vulnerable to the effects of migrating near the open net pens in the ocean and interactions with escaped farmed salmon that enter our wild salmon rivers – a concern that was also highlighted in a recent report by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada.

Ms. Pryor’s comment that “on the east coast there is no confirmed evidence of major lobster kills near fish farms” certainly flies in the face of one such incident that actually resulted in charges in New Brunswick. Three Cooke Aquaculture officials were charged by Environment Canada with illegally dispersing dangerous pesticides in the Bay of Fundy, resulting in the deaths of thousands of lobsters in 2009. Just Google: Cooke Aquaculture trial and read about it.

Sadly, it is difficult to work towards solutions with governments and industry who, despite volumes of evidence, continue to publicly deny the impacts of open net pen salmon aquaculture on our coastal waters. The good news is that headway is being made. There are many species of fish, including Atlantic salmon, being farmed in closed containment facilities in Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United States, Canada (Sustainable Blue, NS and Namgis First Nation, BC among the growers) and China. In Scotland, the world’s biggest onshore salmon farm is being built with the potential to revolutionize production. Dunkeld-based FishFrom is planning to produce about 3,000 tonnes annually in closed-containment facilities for retailers such as Marks and Spencer.

Bill Taylor is President and CEO of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), based in St. Andrews, NB. ASF is dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon and the ecosystems on which their well-being and survival depend. Phone: 506 529-4581