Eric Hobson: B.C. is well positioned to become a world leader in land-based salmon farming

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      By Eric Hobson

      I am writing to applaud the Liberal party’s recent commitment to transition the open net-pen salmon farming industry to closed containment by 2025. The Liberal party platform recognizes that, around the world, open net-pen salmon farming is a sunset industry, and the time has come to support movement to closed containment in B.C. to protect our wild Pacific salmon and revitalize our aquaculture industry, ensuring we preserve jobs in both aquaculture and the wild salmon economy.

      I first learned about concerns about the negative impacts of open net-pen Atlantic salmon farms on B.C.’s wild Pacific salmon over a decade ago. Over the past decade, the science supporting the need to remove the interaction between farmed and wild fish has strengthened considerably. This is why credible, evidence-based conservation organizations like the Pacific Salmon Foundation have called for a move from open net-pen salmon farming to closed containment.

      Other countries also recognize the risks are real and are actively moving toward new approaches to aquaculture. If B.C. does not also move forward quickly, we will be left behind environmentally and economically.

      As an engineer, businessman, philanthropist, and avid fisherman, I decided my best contribution to better protecting wild salmon was to look to technology and innovation as a solution. This work was done in partnership with the ‘Namgis First Nation, a Broughton Archipelago area First Nation that shared my concerns about open net-pens, and other partners, including Sustainable Development Technology Canada as the leading funder.

      Over the past decade we have worked hard to advance the technical, biological, and economic feasibility of land-based salmon farming, primarily through the Kuterra pilot project. At the same time others have been working toward this objective. In many cases, such as in the United States, this has occurred because little or no farming of salmon is permitted in open net-pens.

      Watch this video of the Kuterra pilot project.

      As of May 2019, there are 58 commercial-scale projects in 20 countries in various stages of development. Combined, they will produce more than five times the Atlantic salmon currently farmed in B.C.  If we don't move quickly, Canadians will be left standing idle on the sidelines while other countries capture our international markets. 

      B.C.’s existing aquaculture infrastructure and competitive advantages, such as plentiful coastal land with access to fresh and saltwater and low cost–low greenhouse gas emitting hydropower, means that B.C. is well positioned to be a leader in this new industry. A recent report by independent economist Edwin Blewett found that the development and operation of a 50,000-metric tonne land-based aquaculture industry in the Campbell River corridor on Vancouver Island would result in invested capital of $1.1 billion and generate almost 4,000 well- paid construction jobs and over 2,685 well-paid, full-time ongoing jobs. Construction and operation would also contribute $113.2 million to federal, provincial. and municipal tax revenues.

      Most importantly to British Columbians and all Canadians, this would better protect B.C.’s iconic wild salmon, along with the wild salmon economy. The commercial fishing and sport fishing industries generates a combined GDP of $428 million and employs 9,800 British Columbians. This does not reflect the value of eco-tourism in B.C., which also depends on plentiful wild salmon.

      A commitment to transitioning to closed containment aquaculture by 2025 is an excellent example of how to protect the environment and advance the economy through leadership.

      Eric Hobson is the founder of the Save Our Salmon Society and winner of the 2018 Haig-Brown Conservation Award.