By Roy L Hales
Canada’s $2 billion Aquaculture industry is embroiled in controversy. While there may be some debate as to whether wild salmon spread more infections to British Columbia’s penned stock or vice versa, there have been incidents like the Queen Charlotte Strait’s 2015 sea lice epidemic. On May 20, 2016, Dr Kristi Miller, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, announced that there is “a potential Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) in farmed Atlantic salmon samples” collected from a aquaculture facility off the coast of Vancouver Island. In Norway, where HSMI is more common, this disease is “associated with generally low mortality on farms, generally between 0 to 20%.” The stress (and thus mortality rate) is undoubtedly greater on wild salmon, which need to capture prey, escape predators and swim upstream to spawn. So, acting on behalf of marine biologist Alexandra Morton, ECOjustice is suing Canada’s Ministry of Fisheries for putting wild salmon at risk. Some argue the best answer is to bring salmon farms on land.
Bring Salmon Farms On Land
Last February, NDP MP Fin Donnelly introduced Bill C-228, which calls for Canadian salmon farms to move their operations onto the land within the next five years. On his website, Donnelly says this would “protect wild salmon from sea lice, pollutants and other harmful substances that can come from open-net salmon farms.” He claims the technology that would make such a transition economically feasible exists.
“This would spell the end of the industry in B.C. and we would soon see product from Chile and Norway on our store shelves,” responded Jeremey Dunn, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
A report from the International Salmon Farmers Association states, ” … There are still a number of challenges that must be overcome, especially if, as some would advocate, we were to consider moving all post smolt marine based salmon farms onto land. These challenges include the real costs of energy, water and land usage, and considerations around animal welfare, not to mention the quality and acceptance of the product (and its inevitably high retail price) by the final consumer.”
They concluded, ” … At this time, land based fish farming systems are best suited to the early grow out phase of Atlantic salmon and not the best alternative for the commercial production of the entire grow-out of the species to meet the global food demands.”
According to a recent article in Aquaculture North America, British Columbia’s only land based fish farm, Kuterra, “was designed to produce 400 metric tons of harvested product per year (measured as whole fish, guts-removed, head-on) which equates to $22,630/metric tonne of production based on capital costs. This is approximately seven times more expensive than a comparable net pen facility.”
If this is still true, it sounds like a transitional situation. Kuterra is a start-up, which has been selling fish since 2014. On their website, they mention plans for “an on-site hatchery, operations scaled to a minimum 2,000 metric tonnes, reduced capital costs, and answers to key biological questions, most notably, how to minimize early maturation. Kuterra has not yet benefitted from any of the above factors. When it does, its costs will drop dramatically.”
“We are not profitable yet, but we are very close to breaking even,” said Kuterra communications director Josephine Mrozewski.
They have an exclusive contract with Safeway Canada.
Mrozewski explained, “You need more capital upfront in order to build these facilities. In the early decades of this technology … this meant it could only be used for very high value species, including salmon smolts which are very high value. This is the technology of choice for growing Atlantic Salmon smolts and brood stock.”
The technology has improved and there is now a second Canadian land based fish farm company in Nova Scotia.
No Problems With Sea Lice
The Namgis First Nation company originated as a response to the fish farms in waters surrounding their traditional territory. After failing to stop the ocean-based facilities through the courts, they decided to “challenge farms commercially, to prove that there’s a more sustainable way to farm Atlantic salmon.”
Mrozewski added that Kuterra is strictly a business and does not get involved in the political arguments pertained to ocean fish farming.
They do not have any problems with sea lice because their fish do not come into contact with ocean water. Kuterra uses well water and adds salt.
The #1 cause of mortality at their facility is self inflicted injuries.
Mrozewski, explained, “That’s because salmon are jumpers and they hit things. They hit stantions; they hit the feeding tube. Sometimes it is just an injury and sometimes it is fatal.”
Status Of Bill C-228
If the second reading of C-228 is passed, the bill will be discussed in a committee.
Rachel Blaney, the MP for North Island-Powell River, told the Campbell River Mirror, “For myself, I will be voting positively on this bill. I don’t want Canada to be behind. I want to make sure we are seeing a psotitive investment in amking sure that we keep these jobs in our riding and doing as much aws we can to protect our oceans that are facing multiple challenges right now.”
Top Photo Credit: Water cleaning unit with growout tank – courtesy Kuterra
- Marine Harvest Canada’s (MHC)studies show that the prevalence of sea lice in wild salmon stocks is unaffected by the presence, or absence, of fish farms. Katherine Dolmage, MHC’s Certification Officer, claims that wild salmon definitely spread sea lice to fish farms in the fall, but data showing that fish farms infect smolts when they swim out to the ocean, in the spring, is not conclusive. Anti-fish farm biologist Alexandra Morton emailed me that these studies are bogus, but did not explain why.
- In a 2015 interview with the ECOreport (now Cortes Currents), Morton conceded (starts 7:39 in podcast) that the fish farm’s delousing procedure “worked very well for seven years” prior to 2015. MHC is now beefing up their preventative measures with a 75-metre “freshwater well boat,” to give fresh water cleansing baths to their salmon twice a year.
- Press release from Fisheries and Oceans Canada; According to Marine Harvest’s Integrated Annual Report 2015, from Norway, HSMI is listed third in the “Main causes of reduced survival” graph on page 68; Ironically: though HSMI is specifically mentioned in Norway’s Region West, this was also “the most profitable (fish farming) region in Norway in 2015” p 55.
- Executive Summary on page 7, THE EVOLUTION OF LAND BASED ATLANTIC SALMON FARMS, International Salmon Farmers Association
- Roy L Hales interview with Josephine Mrozewski, Kuterra Communications