Salmon Farmers Association says BC can have both wild salmon and farmed salmon

Photo of sockeye salmon via Creative Commons

Salmon farming, its importance as a sustainable food supply and the important contribution we make to BC’s economy – are important discussions to have. Unfortunately, Alexandra Morton’s recent Vancouver Observer column concludes that the price to pay for salmon farming in BC is the end of the wild salmon fishery. This is a false choice – we do not have to have one or the other, we can and do have both.

We care about wild salmon deeply. We are British Columbians and the people who work in wild fisheries are our neighbours. We have made many proactive steps in 30 years of salmon aquaculture in BC to protect the natural environment where we operate.

The choice is not an either-or. We want to see the wild fishery and aquaculture in BC thrive and grow into the future. All jobs are valuable in BC, be they in aquaculture, agriculture, tourism or fishing. All help to enrich our province. 

BC produces about 75,000 metric tonnes of farm-raised salmon per year.  It’s a significant sector for British Columbia. BC represents about 3.5 per cent of the world’s farm-raised salmon production. Norway and Chile represent between 30 and 35 per cent each.

While salmon farm production has stayed the same in BC, wild salmon populations have continued to vary year to year. Justice Bruce Cohen’s report, released in 2012 after years of investigation, clearly said there is no smoking gun when it comes to explaining what is causing Fraser River sockeye populations to vary.

 The column raises a number of concerns about the impact of salmon farming on wild stocks. Salmon farmers take great care to protect the marine environment, including diligent monitoring of the benthic environment (seabed) as regulated by DFO as well as a commitment to using as few antibiotics and chemicals as possible.

These methods are working – the Cohen Commission noted that “wastes and chemicals discharged at salmon farms are unlikely to have any population level effects on Fraser River sockeye.” 

 Morton makes extensive mention of the possibility that viruses and diseases from farmed salmon may impact wild salmon. What she fails to mention is that fish health on salmon farms is excellent, with very low mortality.

As the Cohen Commission reported, “there is no evidence before me that diseases on fish farms are out of control or unusually high by industry standards.”

 The column focuses on Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA virus) and suggests that it is here in BC but its presence is being hidden. It’s important to be clear here: ISA has never officially been found in BC.

This is the conclusion of thousands of tests run by government laboratories. It’s not unlikely that it could appear though –as the oceans are all connected and all kinds of animals and ships move around within them.

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