Subscribe & stay up-to-date with ASF
Some 12 months after it was first promised and at least six months later than anticipated, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 4) unveiled its “State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies,” a 64-page report evaluating four approaches for farming Atlantic salmon.
The verdict: Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) and the hybrid “super-smolt” approach to production are more ready to go for the province of British Columbia.
“Land RAS and hybrid production technologies are ready for commercial development in BC, while floating containment and offshore production systems need up to five years and 10 years respectively to evaluate their potential,” the authors say in their concluding “key findings and next steps” section of the paper.
The positive reference to hybrid technology is good news for the salmon net pen industry, which has been increasingly moving to the system by which the farmers keep their fish in hatcheries and out of the ocean as much as eight months longer, reducing their exposure to sea lice and other problems.
If the report’s findings sound familiar, that’s because Undercurrent News reported last week how Bernadette Jordan, the Liberal Party’s minister of fisheries, oceans and the Coast Guard, shared a preview of the report in a written back and forth with Mel Arnold, a conservative MP from BC.
Upon first blush on Tuesday, Jordan’s earlier summary of the document, prepared by Gardner Pinfold Consultants, a Nova Scotia-based firm, appears to be on the mark. However, unlike Jordan’s earlier comments, where she suggested the report might spend some time on the carbon footprint left by RAS farms, it’s hard to find comments that are overly critical of any of the four approaches.
The report says “each of the production technologies can advance environmental, social, and economic performance of salmon aquaculture in BC”.
But in a statement released late Tuesday, the BC Salmon Farmers Association — the group that represents the net pen industry in the province — found some areas in the report where it believes a negative light has been shed on RAS.
The report “highlights that land-based [RAS] technology requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions,” BCSFA said. “It also notes the technology has not yet been proven on a commercial scale, and needs to overcome challenges with fish quality, fish health, broodstock development, and environmental impacts before being viable.”
“As the report suggests, it will be at least another two years before we understand whether commercial-scale land-based operations can be profitable, and can start addressing these mission-critical issues,” BCSFA noted.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), a New Brunswick-based group that has typically spoken in favor of RAS over net pen aquaculture, however, saw Tuesday’s report, as further evidence that the time has come for Canada to move in a new direction.
“The conclusion of the report from Gardner Pinfold that ‘land based RAS and hybrid systems are ready and BC is in a position to advance these now’ is confirmation that open net pen aquaculture is unnecessary, outdated, and causes unacceptable levels of pollution compared to the viable alternatives,” said Neville Crabbe, ASF’s spokesperson.
“Production models, like RAS, are not free of environmental impacts, but when it comes to direct impacts on wild fish and ecosystems, the damage is greatly reduced,” he said.
ASF: What’s happening in BC should also happen in Atlantic Canada
Many in the net-pen aquaculture industry, its opponents and RAS champions have been waiting eagerly for the release of the Gardner Pinfold report since it was first mentioned publicly by BC member of Parliament (MP) Jonathan Wilkinson, Jordan’s predecessor as minister of fisheries and oceans, in February 2019.
The report has been especially sought after since prime minister Justin Trudeau announced his pledge, in Sept. 2019 — a few weeks before Canada’s election — to unveil a plan by 2025 that would do away with net pens altogether in BC. Opponents to net pens have continuously expressed concerns about environmental contamination and damage to wild salmon stocks.
Trudeau’s anti-net pen commitment doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon either. In December, he gave Jordan an outline of tasks he’d like to see her undertake, including complying with his aquaculture-related pledge, as reported by Undercurrent.
The planned change would be mammoth in scale. BC is Canada’s largest fish farming province by far, with 127 marine finfish operations owned by some of the biggest companies in the industry, including Mowi, Grieg and Cermaq. Together they harvest nearly 90,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon annually.
The BC aquaculture industry reports to support more than 60 businesses and organizations, is responsible for 7,000 jobs and contributes CAD1.5 billion ($1.13bn) to the economy, serving as the province’s most valuable agricultural export.
Canada ranks fourth among salmon-producing countries in the world, behind Norway, Chile and the United Kingdom, and 26th in total aquaculture production, behind China, Indonesia, India and Vietnam, according to DFO. Aquaculture represents about a third of Canada’s total seafood value and 20% of its production.
The report unveiled on Tuesday advises that the two primary drivers for the introduction of new salmon production technologies include 1) “pressures from governments and stakeholders to adopt more environmentally friendly technologies”; and 2) “challenges such as sea lice and algal blooms that affect salmon production”.
The report suggests national legislation and policy be crafted to nurture innovation in sustainable aquaculture, a recommendation with which the BCSFA also agrees.
It suggests that suitable sites need to be identified for future RAS facilities and offshore commercial development and notes how “countries currently leading aquaculture innovation developments have taken bold steps to advance environmental, social and economic objectives together.
“Canada’s aquaculture sector can grow rapidly to a level on par with global leaders with leadership from all key players,” the paper concludes.
ASF supports Canada’s move away from net pens in BC, but remains “deeply disappointed that a similar commitment has not been made for Atlantic Canada,” Crabbe told Undercurrent in an email sent Tuesday, adding:
“Throughout Atlantic Canada opposition to net pen aquaculture is growing. This report released by DFO will strengthen calls for equal and consistent governance. What is happening in BC must also take place in Atlantic Canada. The federal government must govern federally.”