David Suzuki: After a decade of controversy, has anything changed at B.C. salmon farms?

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      The David Suzuki Foundation and others have run ads over the past decade decrying British Columbia’s open net-cage salmon farm industry. With significant expansion planned for the West Coast, the question remains: has B.C.’s salmon farm industry improved? 

      Salmon farming threatens some of the planet’s last remaining viable wild salmon—a keystone species that touches all our coastal ecosystems. The issues in dispute include feed ingredients, disease transmission between farms and wild salmon, bird and marine mammal deaths, pesticide and antibiotic use, and the effects of multiple farms in concentrated areas. 

      The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recently released science-based ranking reports on open net-cage farmed salmon in B.C., Norway, Chile, and Scotland. All received a “red” or “avoid buying” designation. Canada’s SeaChoice followed suit.

      More than 90 percent of migrating juvenile salmon die before returning to freshwater to spawn, most in the first months after entering the ocean. Pathogens may be a significant factor, although not all specifics about diseases are fully known.

      Justice Bruce Cohen’s Commission of Inquiry investigating the decline of Fraser River sockeye included pathogen risk—along with habitat loss, predation and contaminant exposure—as a factor in the 2009 sockeye collapse. Disease from salmon farms is one risk to wild salmon that can be controlled.

      Salmon farming shouldn’t be done at the expense of wild salmon. Both wild- and farmed-salmon industries provide fish and create economic activity, but the province’s sports and commercial wild salmon fisheries and marine tourism contribute more to B.C.’s economy and quality of life than salmon farming.

      Employment, revenue generation, and food creation are important, but so are preserving wild salmon and protecting the environment for our children and grandchildren.

      Aquaculture must stop using the ocean as a free waste-treatment system. Closed-containment—in the ocean or on land—is better at controlling water and removing feces and chemicals like antibiotics and pesticides used for sea lice.

      One B.C. open net-cage company lost over $200 million in one year because of disease, enough to build 10 closed-containment farms. Yet the industry claims closed alternatives cost too much.

      Although the salmon farm industry has decreased pesticide use, improved parasite management, and reduced feed waste and wild fish used for feed, it hasn’t eliminated the problems. Continuing threats to wild salmon and the environment prevent us from supporting expansion of the industry or advising people to eat ocean-farmed salmon.

      Despite the risks, last year the federal government quietly opened the door to expand B.C.’s aquaculture industry. Thirteen applications for new or larger farms along the coast have been submitted. Fish farm expansion avoids the bigger question: what kind of economic development is best for our coastal ecosystems?

      As Justice Cohen said, more federal research into the effects of fish farms on wild salmon stocks is critical. We need to address this research gap, along with the lack of availability and transparency of data from farming operations, before allowing the industry to expand.

      A promising partnership between Genome British Columbia, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to discover the microbes that may cause disease in B.C.’s wild salmon and hinder their ability to reproduce could provide answers. But those answers don’t yet exist.

      The fish farming industry is making efforts. In 2013, a farm in Norway was the first to be certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Although certification doesn’t fully address the risk to wild salmon, it indicates which farms are best operated and includes requirements to consider cumulative impacts. It is not a signal that the entire industry is free to expand.

      Closed-containment systems, which have fewer impacts on the environment and wild fish, are also growing. The Namgis First Nation on northeastern Vancouver Island recently starting shipping its first closed-containment “Kuterra” Atlantic salmon to Safeway stores in B.C. and Alberta.

      The aquaculture industry could also improve environmental performance by producing food such as scallops, mussels, tilapia, and seaweed that are a lower risk to the environment and use less feed and chemicals.

      Our coastal waters are rich in opportunity. They can contribute to food security and community resilience without open net-cage salmon farms. Unless we chart a sound course, salmon will lose—but so will we, and the bears, eagles, and magnificent coastal forests that support so much life.

      With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation B.C. and western region director-general Jay Ritchlin. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



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      Bertrand Charron

      Apr 30, 2014 at 1:44am

      Did you know that for well over a year (late 2012 to early 2014), Seafood Watch had rated ‘farmed salmon from BC’ as a ‘Yellow/Best Alternative’ and/BUT that it never published those findings?!

      Eventually (this week) the reports were published and had turned ‘Red’… The SeafoodIntelligence.com investigation (April 23, 2014 – http://is.gd/SFW_OpLetter ) reveals in detail some of the issues and concerns…
      A lot of so-called “wild” salmon would not – and could not – exist if it weren’t for aquaculture; particularly in the Pacific NorthWest. When it comes to Alaska salmon which is generically considered “wild” — but not truly so for about a third. We reveal in detail (and quantifies for some of them) the common indicators which can be used to assess the ‘sustainability’ of both farmed and (Alaska, but also Russian, Japanese, Canadian & other Pacific NW) hatchery salmon, and questions why this isn’t being ‘done’.
      We found that the SAME antibiotics are used in Alaska hatcheries, that THOUSANDS of TONNES (we provide figures based on exclusive data communicated by ADF&G) of commercial fish feed are (+/- imported) used yearly in Alaska hatcheries, that salmon hatcheries are almost entirely ‘open’ ‘flow-through’ systems, that disease do occur and are being transmitted also by hatcheries; and cites some of the dozens of hatchery salmon vs. (truly) wild salmon interactions and concerns most-often ignored etc;, etc… You can ask yourself ‘why?’ are these topics not discussed in North America media.
      Many ‘answers’ reside in avoiding simplistic ‘wild vs. farmed’ / ‘closed vs. open’ debates, and simplistic answers, asking the right questions, and having an open/flexible mind. When it comes to closed-containment, there are many answered questions about the very high environmental carbon footprints costs & impacts. Furthermore, one of the largest & most recent farmed salmon escape incident in BC was related to a so-called “closed-contained” installation…

      There is no silver bullet…

      And there is the issue of salmon conservation, advisories and how they are funded…

      Don’t get me wrong: the various environmental impacts of aquaculture absolutely cannot — and should not — be diminished nor under-played. But EQUAL stringency/scrutiny must apply to assessing environmental impacts of fisheries & aquaculture, in BC and elsewhere.

      Bertrand Charron / SeafoodIntelligence.com Editor

      Juro Mukai

      Apr 30, 2014 at 3:27am

      Mr.Charron makes the valid point that hatcheries are another human failure, but as a seafood industry editor doesn't even know the definition of 'wild' fish and sees the resource only as an industry pundit could.

      And is this another brother named David Suzuki, or "the" David Suzuki? Because even as an environmentalist by avocation, not vocation - I would be embarrassed to say that I idolized someone who'd sell out to what is an abomination of chemical, parasitic, viral proportions with international impact singly driven by greed.

      On the bright side, this proves that one can not rely on figureheads and we must fight the good fight ourselves if we are to protect a fragile and precious phenomenon, the wild salmonid. To hell with you, Mr.Suzuki.

      Ken Trainer

      Apr 30, 2014 at 7:13am

      Has anything changed, the Strait asks?

      Lots and all for the good.

      What hasn't changed is the Seafood Watch's mandate to attack anything that isn't American.

      Oh, and the photo used in this article hasn't changed in 20 years either-that pretty well sums up this opinion piece - - dated.

      Lee L

      Apr 30, 2014 at 9:15am

      Meanwhile.... back at the Fraser...

      Mark Hume in the GLobe and Mail says:

      "If the early signals are correct, the Fraser River could have the biggest salmon run in B.C. history this summer, with up to 72 million sockeye returning."

      Now these would be the offspring of the huge and UNEXPECTED run that occured in 2010 right in the middle of the Cohen deliberations. Just because a professinal activist says something is evil, doesnt mean we understand what is going on in the ocean.

      BC should stop waiting on the Federal DFO and fund its own research into just what is going on with respect to salmon farms AND with respect to wild salmon.
      You can't keep drumming the 'sea lice' meme in the middle of a huge contradiction data like 2010 sockeye returns(somewhere around 30 million fish) . Understanding these animals is far more important than demonizing salmon farmers with unproven allegations.

      David Dickinson

      Apr 30, 2014 at 2:52pm

      No more Atlantic Salmon! Produce Pacific salmon and market them when wild Pacifics are not available. As was promised thirty years ago, when the aquaculture industry was trying to pursuade British Columbians that salmon farming was a good thing. The commercial fishing industry was told not to worry. Farmed Pacifics would actually increase demand and prices for wild Pacifics, we were told. So now we have BC fish farms promoting Atlantics, with the effect of increasing demand and prices for Atlantics. Liars!

      Bertrand Charron

      Apr 30, 2014 at 11:49pm

      Juro Mukai does not contribute much by saying I "don't even know the definition of 'wild' fish". I have been discussing and researching issues around "wild" fish for almost 20 years - incl. from genetics, cultural to legal viewpoint (not to mention of course market and 'marketing') - and one thing which nobody (even 'David Suzuki' & Jay Ritchlin) disputes is that hatchery fish "are not truly wild". The point I made above (and in the SeafoodIntelligence.com investigation (April 23, 2014 – http://is.gd/SFW_OpLetter )is that things are 'not that simple'... and that if the same level of scrutiny and 'righteousness' applies to enhanced (or 'supplemented', 'augmented', 'ranched', 'hatchery') salmon fisheries, the black & white views held (and communicated upon) by many would soon find all kinds of 'shades of grey'.

      All I'm saying is be truthful to yourself and look at the issues without being blinded by spins of which you may or not be aware of, and which -ultimately - may have less to do with protecting 'truly wild' fish then they seem; and in fact could very well endanger them. At least this deserves to be investigated, and you may start to understand why there is so much historical polarization over the debate. There is plenty said and done about farmed salmon (including the industry's responses & progress), a lot less is conveniently said about the 'wild' side, even though there are also plenty of concerns about those industries. The world's salmon fisheries didn't collapse or decreased as a result of climate change... but due to anthropogenic actions [incl. fishing].

      If you do need further examples (from eg. a legal perspective) as to why hatchery fish can't be considered "wild" and can even endanger "[truly] wild fish; check out the "giant win" obtained last week (April 25, 2014) in U.S. federal courts by the Wild Fish Conservancy as it settled with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) re. the Puget Sound hatchery programs.

      If you cared to look and think a bit more, you would find also many other concerns.

      Finally, if you are so concerned about the environment, I am sure you will stop driving your car, eat fish & foods harvested by methods using fuel engines using your PC, wearing clothes imported from Asia, and consuming fossil energies, among many other things...

      Juro Mukai

      May 1, 2014 at 5:37am

      Mr.Charron states "A lot of so-called “wild” salmon would not – and could not – exist if it weren’t for aquaculture; particularly in the Pacific NorthWest. When it comes to Alaska salmon which is generically considered “wild” — but not truly so for about a third."
      No artificially colored and flavored finless pellet pout which you call a fish could ever be called wild.
      You'd better check your dixie cup, that kool-aid may be purple. While you're at it, check for sealice, virual infections and waste effluent.

      Juro Mukai

      May 1, 2014 at 12:27pm

      In retrospect, it appears we might be arguing similar points at times while at other times we seem diametrically opposed in position.
      Perhaps it's because my blinding passion for the welfare of wild salmon and steelhead juxtaposes obliquely with your rather complex writing style.
      To be honest, I'm an educated man but in re-reading your posts I come away unsure as to what you are really saying about aquaculture, wild salmonids, or my better than average "green" living habits.
      Just what is your position on the impact of aquaculture on not only wild but native anadromous salmonid strains in the Pacific Northwest? Is it detrimental or somehow beneficial?
      Please clarify, thank you.

      Bertrand Charron

      May 1, 2014 at 11:45pm

      Mr Mukai: I’m also a passionate fly-fisher of (I would prefer, but rarely so) truly ‘wild’ salmonids. I make it my job to try to learn and inform objectively daily; this includes criticising unfair, biased approaches and/or anything which is ‘not what is says on the tin’. I have written thousands of articles critical to salmon farming/fishing companies & industries (and more so Vs. aquaculture than wild-catch since I do focus on that industry).

      My 'agenda' as a journalist is clear: I strive to help filling the 'knowledge gap' and enable access to reliable, objective & up-to-date information. Because I follow the corporate, politics, economy & trade, cultural and marketing attitudes etc.. daily, I am aware of the multi-faceted dimensions & interests which come into play when ‘salmon’ is being discussed.

      I believe that all stakeholders have to consider short-/long-term environmental, social, economic & community impacts. I also believe that aquaculture (salmon farming in particular) is often unfairly singled out by critics (and this often influences the sector's depiction by the media) who do not put in perspective and compare/benchmark the various environmental impacts/footprints by/between the different agri-food producing industries, among many other man-produced products. We all consume their products and we are thus all ultimately & partly responsible.
      So to answer (a massive topic, Cohen etc...) – re. my position on PacificNW aquaculture impacts: there are indeed some; which must be constantly monitored, debated & diminished. But they can – also (but sometimes NOT) - be negligible when considering other anthropogenic impacts (incl. any/all urban developments, transport, farming). Every single house has a significant footprint on the local environment & biodiversity (without even factoring what the LCAs of its components); so do villages, towns & cities… we all… etc…
      Basically: there is no single black & white good/bad answers & ‘demonization’ is ultimately counter-productive for those truly concerned re. ‘wild’ salmonids and/or environment at-large. Assuming so deflects scrutiny from other impact-causing activities.
      Things change every day. Aquaculture, agriculture… humans are here to stay (we hope, but…). What’s important is to ensure their activities are as sustainable as possible. They must be monitored, criticized & praised as per achievements