New executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association plans to change the narrative around the “misunderstood industry” of salmon farming
By Fabian Dawson & Samantha McLeod
Growing up in BC, John Paul Fraser (pictured) was never far from the ocean and his love for salmon.
As B.C.’s deputy minister responsible for Government Communications and Public Engagement until last year, Fraser was also never far from the conflict and conservation issues that surround BC’s incredible natural environment.
“My first priority will be to earn the public’s trust,” said Fraser, who today became the new executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).
“While the importance of salmon farming is well understood in the communities where our members operate that is not the case in urban centers and there is no question we have work to do on that front.
“I look forward to bringing forward the story of just how important and progressive this industry is,” said Fraser, who has a deep background in public and government communications.
Farm-raised salmon is B.C.’s highest valued seafood product, the province’s top agricultural export, and generates over $1.5-billion towards the B.C. economy, supporting more than 6,600 jobs.
The association’s previous executive director, Jeremy Dunn, is now Director of Community Relations & Public Affairs at Marine Harvest Canada.
SeaWestNews caught up with Fraser for this Q&A as he prepared to become the new face of the B.C.’s sustainable salmon farming industry:
What drew you to the BCSFA?
“I love the ocean. I love salmon. I have eaten salmon ever since I was a young person. I lived in Japan for a few of years and I got to understand the value of seafood to the local economy. I have also worked with the DFO around wild salmon conservation, where some very difficult generational decisions had to be made around conservation. I am struck with just how deeply our province’s salmon farmers understand that wild salmon come first and that they play a critical role in protecting wild fish populations. I was drawn to this role by the opportunity to become an advocate for this important but misunderstood industry at a critical time”
What are your priorities?
“My first priority in this role will be to earn the public’s trust. I know there is a lot of work to do on that front, and I’m passionate about getting started. Wild fish populations here and around the world are under pressure from over-fishing and climate change. So if we want to eat fish responsibly we need to farm it. B.C. can play a key role in that.
Our opportunity is in front of us – to raise fish off our coast – responsibly, sustainably, and in consultation and growing partnership with First Nations and other communities. The opportunity to correct the misunderstandings about this important industry and ensure it takes its rightful place along products such as wine, skiing, timber, and technology as part of British Columbians’ identity is a priority for me. It is my belief that if we are really going to preserve wild salmon stocks on the coast then we have to relieve the pressure on those stocks and aquaculture is the way to do that.”
What is your vision for the BCSFA?
“My vision for the association is to help get the conversation on a more responsible and informed level. I think the conflict, which has been around for so many years is not helpful.
I know the people who work in our industry are concerned about the public’s attitude about aquaculture. There are a lot of communities and a lot of jobs at stake if governments make badly-informed decisions. It is up to the industry, and me, and the association to do our best to inject as much information and facts into the conversation. I intend to make every effort to do that through new and different ways that I will be exploring with my team and with leaders and the people in our industry, over the months to come.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception about salmon farming in British Columbia?
“I think the biggest misconception is that our industry does not care or think about the state of wild salmon. I think the central dispute is that it is about one fish versus another. It is not. The reality is science tells us wild and farm fish populations can co-exist in the ocean, and we know that salmon farming plays a crucial role in protecting wild fish by providing a sustainable alternative when families are grocery shopping
My mission, and the work that I am doing with our board and all of our members is to shift the negative to positive and promote the strong co-existence message. I don’t know that there is any other way forward than co-existence, given growing populations, diminishment of our ability to grow food on land over the decades to come, the nutritional value of what we can grow in the ocean and the availability of the ocean here in British Columbia. You know Jacques Cousteau said that the oceans need to be farmed and the animals need to be herded, not hunted. There is no logic in us pursuing a growth strategy that would diminish the ability by the environment to provide for that growth. I think that a lot of work that the industry does, which is at the forefront of conservation of wild stocks, is really misunderstood.
Any surprises, since you have accepted the position?
“Not really…I feel that some of the people who want or who are advocating for the farms to come out of the ocean have very little understanding of how the folks who operate a farm work, and the kind of equipment they work with, and the kind of care and innovations that we have here. Most of the young people working in our industry don’t recognize the industry of yesterday that is genesis of strong opposition. I am struck by how passionate salmon farmers are about providing a healthy, sustainable food choice, and by their passion to protect wild stocks. I would just also add that raising salmon on land to complement sustainable ocean-based farming is part of the answer – but moving all our fish on land is not. Raising large numbers of fish on land hasn’t yet been accomplished anywhere in the world, and trying to make that move could have significant environmental consequences that hasn’t really been thought through.”
What is your definition of success in this role?
“Well, my definition of success is to get people coming to the conclusion that when they put farmed fish on their dinner table it is a healthy thing to do, and a good thing to do for preserving wild salmon. If we can get more people to feel that way then we have more opportunities to grow more partnerships — with more First Nations, with more community groups and more consumers. It would also mean more science and more innovation can be funded to always stay on top of issues, because we do work in a natural environment and there is still so much to learn. We can do all these things if more people begin to equate our farmed salmon as essential to wild salmon conservation.”