David Kiemele

A year of challenges and opportunities in aquaculture

“The ocean is our answer to providing sustainable, safe and healthy food sources for generations to come.”

By Fabian Dawson and Samantha McLeod

2018 has been a year of challenges and opportunities for British Columbia’s sustainable salmon farming industry.

“I think we are at an exciting juncture for the industry and we should not lose sight of our purpose – to provide safe, healthy and sustainable food for generations to come,” says David Kiemele, Managing Director for Cermaq Canada and president of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

SeaWestNews caught up with Kiemele for this year-end Q&A.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the aquaculture industry

“I was raised in Ontario and grew up with a love of the water and of course fish. When I realised I could study aquaculture and incorporate my childhood passions with a career, I thought that would be a good place to start! I began my career here in Campbell River almost 19 years ago, taking a position of a farm hand, basically learning to perform any task they had for me on the farm. I have seen so much change to the business over those years. I spent five years on Vancouver Island and then took a position with the salmon farming company, Tassal in Tasmania, Australia, where I spent the next 11 years of my life. In 2016, I moved back to Vancouver Island to take up a position with Cermaq in Tofino. I always knew I wanted to make my way back to the West Coast, where I always felt at home with the hope to be able to contribute meaningfully to the aquaculture industry here in B.C. I enthusiastically stepped into the Managing Director role in early 2017.”

What is the most interesting experience you have had in salmon farming over the years?

“That’s a good question…I’ve been lucky enough to farm salmon and visit operations in some of the most beautiful places in the world, in particular here on the West Coast, and also Tasmania. If I can put it this way, the most interesting experience is just that – the experience. Not one day is ever the same, let alone month or year. It’s the amazing breadth of experiences I’ve been lucky enough to be part of that drives my passion for this industry. The fantastic people you meet along the way that are so committed to their craft and the product they spend countless hours producing. The constant challenge, opportunities and drive to improve on past experiences, the learning curve that still exists in what is still a young industry motivates me to strive to ensure our sector is seen as a world leader in sustainable, low carbon food production for generations to come.”

What innovation, in your opinion, has the most potential to improve the aquaculture industry?

“I think there are a few innovations on the horizon that will change the way we farm. Cermaq Canada has recently made a $12 million dollar investment in a state-of-the-art Hydrolicer which uses pressurized ocean water to gently remove sea lice from farmed salmon. The removed sea lice are collected, stored and the disposed off on land. The custom-built barge has the capacity to treat hundreds of thousands of salmon in a matter of days. We have been using a version of this machine in Norway with fantastic success.

We are also closely watching the progress of our recently launched semi-closed containment system farm which we put in the water in Norway in late September. This system greatly reduces the interaction of farmed and wild salmon and protects our fish against sea lice and harmful algae blooms by allowing us to take water into the farm from a depth of 13 metres.

I also think the social innovation work we are doing and the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with local Indigenous communities is significant and will be a critical shift in thinking and structure for aquaculture moving forward.

What do you think of the recent announcement that the federal government is looking into the creation of an Aquaculture Act?  

“I think the recent announcement by Federal Fisheries Minister Wilkinson is a step in the right direction.

The act would allow for streamlined regulatory processes, and for policies and procedures to be based on science-based research and findings. It would also create the opportunity for those processes to be applied consistently across Canada, and provide clear direction for the industry, and federal and provincial regulators. The development of an independent aquaculture act clearly communicates the importance of aquaculture for Canada’s future.

I think this is a positive step and will ultimately provide benefits to the economy, the environment and wild salmon populations by ensuring the industry is operating in a sustainable way.”

From Cermaq’s perspective, are you looking at both land-based systems and semi-closed containment in ocean?

“Salmon farming is one of the most sustainable protein farming methods available. It provides the highest amount of healthy, sustainable food with one of the lowest carbon footprints. Moving forward, with population growth, climate change and shrinking land resources, the world will need to find alternatives to traditional land-based farming methods, and aquaculture is going to be one of the solutions.

By taking the full life-cycle of salmon farming from the ocean and into a land-based system would require large amounts of land, as well as large amounts of energy (natural gas and electricity), which would negate a large portion of the environmental benefit of ocean farming. It would also diminish the welfare of the fish in our farms, moving them from a natural environment where they are in fresh water with lots of room to swim, to smaller tanks with pumped and recirculated water.

Currently, our freshwater hatcheries are land-based, and some of our broodstock is kept in freshwater. It can be done, but again, at what cost to the environment if we were to entertain large-scale land-based production?

As arable land and fresh water become scarcer, we should not lose sight of the importance of farming our oceans and the possibilities which we are starting to see from new technology and research.

We have been testing a semi-closed system in Norway, which is showing really positive results. The semi-closed system greatly reduces interaction between wild and farmed salmon, by having the entire pen enclosed in a thick polymer material. The system has variable depth water intakes, down to a depth of 13 metres, which means we can intake ocean water from below the depths at which we would normally see sea lice or harmful algae blooms. The water exits the pen from four deep-water portals which will minimize the transition of parasites or disease from the wild fish to our farmed populations.

We know that the demand for sustainably sourced and farmed protein is continuing to increase. When you see this kind of demand and partner it with growing populations, shrinking available land-bases, the large carbon footprint of traditional protein farming methods and the increasingly significant impacts from climate change – the future of sustainable aquaculture will happen on land and in the ocean. 

As for my personal opinion, I have always believed the ocean is not a bad place to responsibly grow fish.”

What is the timeline for some of these technologies to sail into B.C’s ocean?

“Hydrolicers are here and in use by salmon farming organizations, and Cermaq will be receiving its new $12 million custom built Hydrolicer in the spring of 2019. The semi-closed systems, which I just referenced, are in testing in Norway, but we are hoping to see testing of those farms here in Canada as early as 2019.”

What do you think of the salmon returns in the Pacific?     

“With some local wild salmon populations in decline, there is work to be done to help restore this iconic species. Our goal at Cermaq is to ensure the health of wild and farmed salmon, and we believe wild salmon can actually be in a better position in areas where we farm, through our commitment to assist in habitat restoration and enhancement work, beach and shoreline clean up, and proactive area based management. 

At Cermaq we are focused on supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and can have a direct impact on SGD 14 –Life Under Water, which is focused on improving the overall health of our oceans. We were also the first company to come on board to support the United Nations Sustainable Action Platform on Sustainable Ocean Business.

We are supporting these commitments by partnering with local Indigenous communities to restore and enhance salmon habitat and spawning grounds and establish successful hatcheries and fisheries programs. We are also working with communities, associations and groups to remove thousands of tonnes of waste and plastics from our oceans.

In 2019, and beyond, we are committed to furthering this work and looking to develop additional agreements and partnerships to help improve the ocean’s health, support wild salmon, and continue to provide sustainable, healthy salmon. 

For us at Cermaq, we believe that you can have your salmon, and eat it too. What I mean by this is that you can enjoy our delicious farmed salmon on a regular basis, knowing we are working hard to be part of the solution so that wild salmon will be available to British Columbians for generations to come.”

As president of BCSFA, what are the key challenges in 2019 for the industry?

“Top of mind for me is the opportunity we have to further our relationships and partnerships with local Indigenous communities. I think when we can come together, in a respectful way that honours the knowledge, experience and history of these Nations; we will be able to create unique partnerships, which will add value for the Indigenous peoples, industry, and wild salmon populations.

I think we will continue to see issues regarding wild salmon, parasite management – but I also think that the innovations and new technologies that we see coming on board are going to add another layer to these conservations.

As an industry, we need to be more proactive in sharing information, engaging with people and telling the story of aquaculture and the role it is going to play moving forward in regards to being a safe, healthy and sustainable source of protein”.

ENGO campaigns have been very effective in messaging and reducing complex issues to simple ideas that have become engrained in the aquaculture discourse. The public, particularly in British Columbia, finds itself caught within a fog of contested science and misinformation. How do you plan to address this in the coming year, on behalf of the industry?                               

 “I think it is through the telling of the aquaculture story in an open and transparent way, by continuing to do the right thing, and by continuing to look for ways to add value in the communities and regions in which we live and work.

I also think our developing our relationships and partnerships with Rights Holders and stakeholders across BC and beyond is important, not only for industry as a whole moving forward but also to start to build a community and strengthen our voice on the global stage.

We need to continue to talk to people about aquaculture, our values and our practices and continue to own, do the right thing for the fish, the environment and our partners. We also need to be respectful of everyone’s opinion and point of view and realize that not everyone is going to agree with our industry. The opportunity for us in those conversations is to help provide context and science-based research and information.

At the end of the day, we are all collectively facing larger environmental issues caused by climate change, increasing populations and demand for safe, healthy foods, and a shrinking arable land on which to carry out traditional farming methods. Our oceans offer us unlimited potential if we move forward in a sustainable way that will ensure the health of the ocean while also improving habitats and ecosystems for marine life. The ocean is our answer to providing sustainable, safe and healthy food sources for generations to come.”

Anything else you would like to add?                                    

“In our 2018 Sustainability Report, we feature a quote from famed oceanographer, conservationist and biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau and it has really resonated and stuck with me. “We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters.

That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting.”

As an industry and as consumers, we need to shift our thinking to match our changing needs, opportunities and challenges. We have a shrinking arable land base, an increasing population, and we are starting to see significant impacts from global warming and climate change – and all of these changes are driving innovation.

The changes we have seen in our industry in just the last few years have been amazing. With developments on the horizon such as iFarm, semi-closed containment options and improvements to animal husbandry and parasite treatments, I think we are at an exciting juncture for the industry and we should not lose sight of our purpose – to provide safe, healthy and sustainable food for generations to come.”


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