In a February 6 article, titled Shuttering salmon farms not just threatens jobs but also hurts the environment, a multidisciplinary group of salmon farming lobbyists tells us that shutting down open-net pen (ONP) salmon farms is bad for the environment, and accuses “campaigners” of a self-interested effort to bring the industry down.
Unfortunately, the evidence is not on the side of the authors when it comes to either of these claims. Just a week prior, 16 independent scientists, including five Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, collectively responsible for more than 1,500 peer-reviewed articles, wrote a scathing open letter criticizing a recent Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) study of the impact of ONPs on wild salmon populations. One co-authoring scientist calls DFO’s effort “one of the worst pieces of science I’ve ever seen come out of a government department in Canada,” and the letter references more than 30 studies conducted in B.C. alone that “link sea lice on wild juvenile salmon with salmon farms,” often with lethal outcomes.
The sea lice problem is not unique to the West Coast. On the contrary, industry sea lice counts produced on New Brunswick salmon farms have recorded upwards of 40 adult female sea lice per fish at some sites, where up to 600,000 farmed salmon are packed into cramped conditions. The aquaculture industry relies on the natural environment to deal with its waste, spreading effluent, disease, and sea lice throughout wild Atlantic salmon migration routes.
The added pressure of interbreeding between farmed and wild Atlantic salmon in Atlantic Canada represents another huge threat facing depleted wild salmon stocks today. Researchers estimate that farmed escapes need only account for 10 per cent of an otherwise wild population to produce irreversible damage to the fitness of future generations.
So, we ask: Would it be bad for the environment to eliminate these impacts on beloved wild salmon populations under threat on both coasts? Would it be bad to eliminate the thousands of tons of dead fish and fecal matter that’s allowed to flow freely from salmon farms into surrounding seas? Would it be bad to eliminate the pesticides deployed on salmon farms, risking lobster stocks and other wild fish that our coastal communities rely on? The answer hardly needs stating.
The authors act as though there are no solutions to the many ecological problems borne at ONP salmon farms, telling us that eliminating environmental impact is “impossible in human affairs.” In fact, we have a solution that entirely eliminates the sea lice, escapes, and waste buildup plaguing ONP sites. It’s dead simple to boot: move the farms onto land.
Land-based closed containment (LBCC) operations continue to gobble up a growing share of the global salmon products market, with technologies improving and costs decreasing rapidly. With LBCC tech now proven both technically and economically feasible, the only justification for the continuation of ONP salmon farming is corporate profit at the expense of our ocean ecosystems.
Which leads to the final point. Speaking of self-interest, who are the “self-interested” parties that the industry lobbyists refer to?
Do they refer to the dozens of coastal First Nations in B.C., interested in the protection of dramatically declining wild Pacific salmon populations that their nations have relied on for millennia?
Do they refer to the coastal community groups or wild fish harvesters who have lived and worked beside ONP fish farms for decades, interested in the health of their commercial fishing grounds and their communities?
Do they refer to the wild Atlantic salmon anglers, interested in the protection of wild stocks such that future generations can continue to fish the way that their grandparents and great grandparents once did?
Do they refer to the 16 independent scientists that penned the timely open letter on B.C. sea lice, interested in the pursuit of truth and the evidence their research has produced?
Or do they refer to the environmental non-profit community, interested in speaking on behalf of biodiversity and marine ecosystems threatened by corporate greed like that of the ONP salmon farming industry?
The salmon farming lobby isn’t fooling anyone in their effort to discredit those who have raised the alarm on the harm that ONP salmon farms have caused in our waters. Unlike the corporations operating these sites today, who will move on when land-based salmon finally becomes more profitable, communities will be left to clean up after the industry yet again.
Despite recent backtracking, Canada is still committed to removing salmon farms from B.C. waters, and federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Joyce Murray has an opportunity to show courage now. Minister Murray must stand with those on the side of wild salmon and healthy ecosystems, rather than the side of profit-making, and finish the job her department is mandated to do. Voters on both of Canada’s fish farming coasts are watching carefully.
Geoff Leboutillier, vice president, Healthy Bays Network; Kevin Davidson, president, New Brunswick Salmon Council; Matthew Abbott, marine program director, Conservation Council of New Brunswick; Tommy Amirault, president, Coldwater Lobster Association; Syd Dumaresq, chair, Friends of Nature Conservation Society; Bob Bancroft, president, Nature Nova Scotia; Marilyn Keddy, South Shore chair, on behalf of Council of Canadians coastal chapters: North Shore, Halifax, Fredericton, Kent County, Prince Edward Island, Campbell River, Powell River, Nanaimo.