The BC Seafood Festival 2018, a celebration of BC’s aquaculture industry, is fast approaching. There is no better time than right now to highlight this conversation from last year’s seafood festival.
Questions and Answers with Jeremy Dunn, then executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
By Samantha McLeod
“The past four years with the BCSFA has been an incredible experience and introduced me to the talented women and men working in B.C. and the global seafood sector,” says Dunn, a stalwart of BC’s seafood industry. – (Dunn but not gone).
BC Seafood Festival:
What is new in Jeremy Dunn’s life these days?
Well, we are always busy, and personally I have a new baby girl and she is a fantastic little girl that helps in making my life full.
How do you stay balanced with your business travels, and having a young family?
I find balance by making sure I eat the right diet and that includes farm raised fish and seafood from BC at least twice a week.
The Aquaculture industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years, has it been a challenge?
Well, today over half the seafood consumed in the world is farmed. Thirty years ago, this was a nascent industry here on the planet. What I mean is this industry, raising salmon for humans, has only been around for about forty years, thirty years in BC. Like any new industry, it came with some challenges and communicating what the industry is. There have been some folks that take the time to get to know the industry, but as the industry was progressing there were some bumps along the way and those are starting to be few and far between now. Science and technology has really innovated this industry, really like no other food sector the world has seen.
Consumers demand transparency in businesses. Is your industry doing enough to keep the public informed?
Well, not only do we have strong regulations here in Canada through Fisheries and Oceans Canada, those data they gather from farms are all posted for everyone to see on the internet. On top of the regulations, our members have farms that are all certified by independent third party environment certification, these include Certified Organic, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and many others. Most of those if not all of those have been developed in concert with multiple stakeholders including conservationists. There’s more transparency in aquaculture than any other food producing business.
One of the issues about the aquaculture conversation in British Columbia is there seems to be a lot of opinions and very little knowledge. Do you feel like you are raising ample awareness to the general public?
Well, things like the BC Seafood Expo, Fresh Fest, and salmon farm tours are how we raise interest and awareness of the industry on a daily basis. Our association takes the awareness of our sector and the education of aquaculture in BC as our number one priority. It isn’t a task that comes and goes with political times, it is a task that is with us on a daily basis. People want to know so much more about the food they are eating today, they want to know the chef, they want to know the recipe, they want to know every single ingredient and where they came from and the traceability of aquaculture not only lets you know the farm that the salmon came from, if you want to go back through the lineage you can know the parents of that fish and where the hatchery was, all the way through, so we take the communication of that and the traceability of the product very seriously and it is something we work on every day.
There were many reputable chefs at the 2017 BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival, was it easy getting them onboard?
Chefs appreciate quality, chefs appreciate freshness and they want to know where the product is coming from. One of the big focuses we have had is introducing our members’ products to chefs that maybe haven’t worked with our products before, letting them understand the way the fish was raised and meet the farmers who raised them and they can take that story forward to their customers.
What is the consumption rate of BC’s salmon in Canada?
Well in BC on average we raise about 75 to 80 thousand tons of salmon, and about 30 percent of that is consumed here in Canada. Seventy percent is exported, of our exports most of them, about 85 percent goes to the United States and about 15 percent goes to Asia. The demand in Asia is incredible, the growth and export there over the last couple of years has been significant. If we had more fish we know that with the 12 markets that we sell fish to around the world that we would be able to sell, certainly sell a lot more.
What is the demand for BC seafood these days?
Well the demand is huge for all seafood, 7 to 9 percent a year the market increases and we have got to be able to raise more fish to meet that demand, and with events like the Seafood Expo and bringing dozens of international buyers here to the Comox Valley to learn about BC seafood, they’re learning that BC seafood is the one they might want to choose over fish caught or raised in another marketplace, so events like this really do help to fuel the demand, that’s ensuring the farmers get the highest value for the product. The more value that you can get for the product the greater you can invest in your business to further innovate what we are doing here in British Columbia, and not only grow the industry but grow it in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.
How does raising more fish help the environment?
By raising more fish, you are feeding more people. We did a full life cycle impact analysis of BC farm-raised salmon and what that showed it has a significantly less overall impact on the environment than any other protein that we are eating today. When you compare it to chicken it is 30 percent less impact on the environment, when you compare it to beef it is more than 10 times less the impact on the environment, and the reality about wild fish is if we want to preserve wild fish then we need to catch less of them. Worldwide we feed over 300 million meals a year from the salmon that we raise and we take that very seriously, the world is growing, the population is growing and we need to eat and not only do we need to eat, we need to eat healthy food and salmon is one of the healthiest protein that people can eat.
What is your key focus for keeping BC’s aquaculture a vibrant industry?
Well, there are two…The first one is to work with Coastal First Nations to help them develop the economy in their territories, and the second is increasing productions from existing farms that have the right environmental conditions to do that. Through new practices and innovations, you can have a higher crop yield from an existing farm. Through working with First Nations, you can find new sites that are going to benefit those communities and also create a highly-desired product.
What is the current annual revenue from this sector for British Columbia?
In BC, farm-raised salmon represents about $1.5-billion dollars to the provincial economy and that’s the full economic impact of 5,000 jobs and almost 80,000 tonnes of salmon. Last year prices of salmon were at a record sustained highs and overall our product was worth just over 700 million dollars from here in British Columbia.
“This industry has really innovated, like no other food sector the world has seen.” – Jeremy Dunn
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