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July 21, 2021 | BC Salmon Farms: What’s Next?

Stewart Muir is founder and executive director of the Resource Works Society, a Vancouver-based group open to participation by British Columbians from all walks of life who are concerned about their future economic opportunities. He is an author, journalist and historian with experience on three continents including a financial editor of The Vancouver Sun responsible for mining and markets coverage. Since Resource Works was established in 2014, the group has gained international recognition for its practical approach to the public challenges of responsible natural resource development and use.

The phrase “like a fish out of water” is taking on new meaning, thanks to what is sure to be an unnecessary and awkward transition away from open-net salmon farming in BC’s coastal waters.

The arbitrary decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to close 19 salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands area has taken another knock, with the release of new scientific research results.

Last December, the Minister either ignored or discounted nine existing peer-reviewed studies that showed the salmon farms in question had only minimal impact on wild stocks migrating through Discovery Islands waters.

Now comes a tenth research study, reporting that tests with piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) resulted in no deaths or impact on fish health.

Business in Vancouver told readers: “While some studies have linked PRV to various diseases in salmon, like heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), others have concluded the virus – or at least the strain found in BC – is benign”.

The study was conducted by scientists from the University of BC, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.

“None of the salmon infected with PRV died. Researchers found ‘no physiological differences between PRV-infected fish and a control group, injected with a salt solution.”

Jordan is now actively pursuing a 2025 plan to transition away from open net-pen salmon farms in Pacific coastal waters.

We don’t yet know whether that means “closed containment” farms in ocean waters or land-based aquaculture. Neither is seen as a great bet by the industry.

Land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) have many fans in green circles, but their rose-tinted claims raise some questions.

Take, for example, two points from an oft-quoted guest column in The Vancouver Sun:

Claim #1: Land-based salmon farming does not impact the environment.

The column cited a pioneer land-based BC salmon farm, Kuterra, “a pilot project that proved to the world that salmon could be raised to market size in land-based systems that do not impact the environment.”

But a study from The Freshwater Institute in the US (an environmental NGO, by the way) found that fresh salmon produced in the US by RAS (assuming 90% of the power comes from hydroelectricity) would produce 3.27kg of CO2e per kilogram of salmon.

So there is some impact on the environment, although the availability of clean hydropower in BC could be a plus.

Claim #2: “The future growth of this industry will be on land, and it appears that, worldwide, the smart money knows this.”

True, if you listen to Atlantic Sapphire, a Norwegian company with a huge and growing RAS salmon farm in Florida. And true if you heed Brian Vinci, director of the Freshwater Institute, who describes land-based RAS aquaculture as “technically, biologically, and hopefully, economically feasible.”

But economic feasibility is a huge question mark, as raised in a 2020 federal government study by Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

  • It put the cost of net-pen systems at $5 million, with a potential return on equity of 52%;
  • The cost of RAS was put at more than $22.6 million, with an ROE of only 4%.

From that study: “Typically, the more ‘closed’ a system is, the more complex its management becomes, since its energy requirements are greater and waste can be more of an issue. . . .

“Although RAS production showed efficiencies in biological feed conversion ratio (FCR), temperature stability, and improved environmental control, the presence of higher capital costs, energy costs and labour requirements significantly affected its overall profitability.”

Then there’s the question of where these RAS systems will be built. Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams, for one, says BC’s economy is sure to suffer:

“If they’re pushing to get everything out of the water, with 85% of our product going into the US, those land-based aquaculture RAS systems are going to be moved to the US, close to market, to eliminate the logistics and the transportation costs.”

And for consumers, there’s the simple question of price:

A quick one-store check shows Atlantic Sapphire land-farmed salmon in the US retailing at the equivalent of $40.25 Canadian for a kilo, while a supermarket in the BC Lower Mainland had ocean-farmed Atlantic salmon from BC at $30.90 a kilo.

Let’s hope that, for Minister Jordan, “phasing out” doesn’t apply to the entire industry.

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July 21st, 2021

Posted In: Resource Works

One Comment

  • brian kohn says:

    The most valuable seafood species in the U.S. is salmon. Landed value around a billion dollars. Harvested catch 190 million. B.C. stats don’t matter because their isn’t enough salmon left in this province to count. The commercial salmon industry is finished as of DFO announcements a couple weeks ago. We got open net salmon farms. The Yanks don’t. Figure it out. Mind you we got water & the Yanks don’t. Don’t have to worry about damming the Fraser anymore. Dump it into the Colombia around Big Bend. Back up the Colombia with reservoirs into the Rocky Mountain Trench. Get the water down to the Flathead country & through the border. A tunnel through one mountain and into the Colorado River system. The elevations & plans were surveyed & drawn up in 1922 by the U.S. Army Corps ofEngineers. Every Post graduate student of water resource allocation in every major university in the States has studied the “Grand Scheme”. The Hoover & Grand Coulee dams kicked it off. The Columbia River Treaty of 1964 another stage. 2024 it comes due. Of course the Feds will sell us out like they always do. First the mighty Pacific salmon runs, then the water. The money flowing into Ottawa will be epic.

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