An alphabetical chronology of aquaculture in 2018 

An A to Z guide to some of the major stories that impacted the fish farming industry in B.C., Canada and the world in 2018

By Fabian Dawson and Samantha McLeod

A new era –  In Dec. 2018, an agreement between three First Nations and the B.C. Government set the stage for an orderly transition of 17 salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago and provided a pathway for increasing sustainable aquaculture operations in Canada’s west coast. Premier John Horgan in announcing the deal said his government will allow more ocean-based fish farms in B.C., provided environmental concerns are addressed and consent is obtained by First Nations governments in the proposed areas.

Blue economy – Canada pledged tens of millions of dollars for sustainable growth that will build resilient coastal communities to underline its determination to be a leader in the global Blue Economy at the conclusion of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. In Canada, the oceans alone are a source of approximately 350,000 jobs and generate approximately $36 billion annually in GDP through fisheries and aquaculture, energy, shipping, tourism and recreation.

Crime Stoppers in partnership with the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association launched a campaign to encourage the public to anonymously report environmental crimes in March of 2018. With BC’s Salmon Farmers, Crime Stoppers developed a media campaign for local community centres, parks, marinas and boating centers and other public spaces. “For us, it’s a matter of acting locally to address something that’s proliferating around the globe,” said Linda Annis, executive director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers. “The BC Salmon Farmers were the first group to step up to the plate when Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers initiated this partnership, which also includes the Vancouver Park Board,” said Annis.

Decisions based on aquaculture science need to be proactively disseminated to consumers, the general public, scientists and industry, concluded a report in December 2018 by the Independent Expert Panel led by Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Dr. Mona Nemer. Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard also reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to thoughtful, science-based decisions on sustainable aquaculture. The debate around fish farming in Canada has for the most part pit economics against the environment. But over the year it increasingly morphed to become one about science. The polarized debate is threatening a viable and sustainable food source for the world, warned Wilkinson at the Vancouver Island’s Economic Alliance Annual Summit in Nanaimo.

ENGO campaigns that oversimplify complex aquaculture issues have left British Columbians caught in a fog of competing politicized agendas, contested science and misinformation. “The net effect has been to create and perpetuate a climate of public skepticism and opposition that has spilled over into the political realm,” stated a new study by researchers from the University of Victoria and the University of New Brunswick. the paper stated. When considered in the context of other major sectors of the Canadian economy (e.g. agriculture, forestry, mining, oil and natural gas), all of which have significant ecological impacts, the aquaculture industry has a positive story to tell, the researchers stated.

Federal Aquaculture Act – Also in December 2018, amidst a flurry of announcements, Fisheries Ministers across Canada decided to move towards a Federal Aquaculture Act that will govern a sustainable seafood farming industry. “Such federal legislation would continue to ensure that Canada’s aquaculture industry is a global leader in producing high-quality aquaculture products in an environmentally sustainable manner,” a government communique said.  The push for a Federal Aquaculture Act, which has been embraced by Canadian seafood farmers, was mooted by the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce.  The new Act will provide a simplified regulatory path to grow our businesses, especially in coastal communities, said John Paul Fraser, the Executive Director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

Growth – Aquaculture was highlighted in the Agri-food Report from Canada’s Economic Strategy Tables as one of the four priorities requiring immediate action citing the potential for the sector to nearly double production from 200,565 tonnes in 2016 to 381,900 tonnes in 2028 to meet rising demand. “There is strong growth potential in the aquaculture sector, and Indigenous communities are in a unique position to contribute to its sustainable development and explore new opportunities,” said the report. Canada’s aquaculture sector employs 25,000 full time workers and generates $5.16 Billion in economic activity. Over 40 First Nation and Indigenous communities are now directly or indirectly involved in farming seafood in Canada.

Health – All seafood, whether raised sustainably or caught responsibly can significantly improve overall health several studies reported over the year. “Both farmed and wild salmon have similar amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids which improves brain function and overall health  . according to the USDA (US Department of Agriculture),” stated the US-based Seafood Nutrition Partnership. An international study led by La Trobe University in Australia showed eating fish such as salmon and trout, both farmed and wild, can reduce asthma symptoms in children. Farmed and wild fish offer the same health benefits and eating seafood twice a week contributes to a healthier lifestyle, states Health Canada.

Innovations – The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) continued its $1.5 million commitment to the Marine Environmental Research Program (MERP), to be utilized in collaborations with government, academic and independent research institutions for innovations to increase production efficiencies and sustainability. The big three in British Columbia’s aquaculture industry – Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafood – also announced spending of tens of millions of dollars in sea vessels and barges, bringing new technology to improve their operations and boost the local economies of coastal communities.

Jobs – The global salmon farming industry continues to evolve sustainably, producing 17.5 billion meals every year and creating 132,600 jobs in coastal communities around the world, said The International Salmon Farmers (ISFA) 2018 socio-economic report –  Salmon Farming: Sustaining Communities and Feeding the World. Farm-raised salmon remained British Columbia’s highest valued seafood product, the province’s top agricultural export, and generated over $1.5-billion towards the B.C. economy, resulting in over 6,600 jobs. In 2016, 37 countries were producing more farmed than wild-caught fish, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). More than 19 million people are engaged in farming fish, and aquaculture production is expected to grow nearly 40% by 2030 said the FAO.

Knowledge – The value of Indigenous and local knowledge must be used to create a precedent-setting model for aquaculture risk-based decision-making in Canada, stated a report by the Independent Expert Panel led by Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Dr. Mona Nemer. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also called for First Nations’ collective traditional ecological knowledge to be a critical part of Canada’s new Wild Salmon Policy at the launch of the International Year of the Salmon in Vancouver. “We as First Nations leaders have a responsibility to protect our environment and we watch over it carefully…we have done it for thousands of years,” Chief John Smith of the Tlowitsis First Nation told media in Vancouver last summer.

Lab tests – In the Spring of 2018, a scientific literature review by the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BCCAHS) – an independent lab – and the University of British Columbia challenged the theory that PRV causes disease in salmon in B.C.  In fact, the significant body of science on the topic had also found that it is likely a strain of PRV that naturally exists off the Pacific Coast and that it is a different strain than the one found in Norway, one that it isn’t harmful to either wild or farmed fish. Canada’s Centre for Science Advice (CSA) also said the conclusions from the study, which linked piscine reovirus (PRV) to jaundice and anemia in chinook salmon, was unsubstantiated. Earlier in the year, unfounded claims triggered a $100,000 government investigation after the integrity of some of the scientists at the provincial Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, B.C. was questioned. The government inquiry debunked the claims and found the Animal Health Centre operates with strong professional, scientific and ethical integrity.

More people than ever before are eating farmed fish and more countries around the world are turning to fish farms as a key source of sustainable protein, stated a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  The biannual report on the state of the world’s fisheries, said fish farming is the fastest growing agricultural sector for the past 40 years and is largely responsible for making more fish available. The FAO has projected that aquaculture will account for two-thirds of the global food fish consumption by 2030. About 3.2 billion people rely on fish for almost 20 per cent of their animal protein intake said the report. Overfishing of wild stocks, climate change and pollution are seen as the main challenges facing global fish production.

National Youth Council – In November 2018, The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) unveiled its National Youth Council, to showcase the growing presence of young people in the sustainable future of farming the oceans. CAIA established the 14-member National Youth Council to connect young professionals in Canada’s aquaculture sector, to propose and develop ideas for the flourishing of the sector, and to be ambassadors for the sector. “We hail from across Canada’s thriving seafood farming sector: finfish to shellfish, land-based to net-pens, freshwater to marine, industry to research,” said RJ Taylor, inaugural Youth Council Chair.

Ocean Wise executive chef Ned Bell, who is also the founder of Chefs for Oceans organized Chefs for Oceans ‘Fish Talk’ #Aquaculture101 in collaboration with the Ocean Wise Seafood Program, the Chefs Table Society and BC Chefs Association, which was held in September 2018 at the Vancouver Club. “It’s not about wild or farmed…it’s about wild and farmed,” Bell told the 150-strong gathering of top chefs, seafood industry types, government representatives and scientists, all of whom were eager to learn how sustainable aquaculture can help feed the world. The panelists included Don Noakes, Dean of Science, Vancouver Island University, Chef Rick Moonen of RM Seafood Las Vegas, Chef Barton Seaver of Coastal Culinary Academy, Claire Li, Account Representative, Ocean Wise seafood program, Terry Brooks, Fish Farmer of Gindara Sablefish and West Creek Coho and Scott Nicols, Founder, Food’s Future.

Plastic pollution – Over 170,000 Canadians signed a petition calling for a national strategy to tackle plastic pollution. This led to Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns’ private member’s bill calling for a national framework to reduce plastic pollution, being passed unanimously in the House of Commons. The Vancouver-based Ocean Legacy Foundation, a prime mover of the signature campaign, is now working with seafood farmers in B.C. to develop plans around ocean plastic management for the aquaculture industry. Ocean Legacy’s Marine Debris Solutions program and in-take centre, which has become the recycling gateway for ocean plastics in Western Canada, has seen more than 100 tons of plastic waste collected from B.C. shorelines over the last two years.

QualityIn British Columbia, every salmon farm holds at least one third party certification or recommendation. Certification vary by company, but most include stringent third-party audits and public disclosure of audit findings. The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said that all its members have committed to the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), including certifying all Atlantic salmonfarms to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)standard by 2020. The ASC standard is the most stringent, voluntary, ocean-based farming certification in the world.

B.C.’s farm-raised salmon sector is also one of the world’s most closely regulated and transparent industries. Annually, Fisheries and Oceans Canada posts at least 22 different reports on regulated salmon farming practices in B.C. with many identified to the farm-level.

RAS – The financial viability and environmental sustainability of Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) which are land-based, closed containment rearing systems will be part of a study by the Feds and the B.C. government to determine gaps that limit commercial readiness and inform future aquaculture technology development efforts. B.C. is littered with failed attempts to grow either Pacific or Atlantic salmon in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) over the past 20 years. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans in a 2010 study, calculated the capital cost of open-net aquaculture at $5 million, with a 52% return on investment in the third year, compared with $22.6 million for an RAS, with a return on investment of 4%. Studies also show that to move Canada’s current salmon production to land based systems would require 28,000 Canadian football fields and 4.16 billion litres of fresh water to fill the tanks.

Seafood Festival and Expo – The 2018 edition of the BC Seafood Festival and Expo, held in the Comox Valley last June, attracted over 40 seafood companies while the Expo component featured over 50 Trade Show exhibitors. The event, the largest of its kind in Western Canada and one of the top 10 seafood festivals in North America also attracted leading speakers in their fields and provided a venue to network with industry leaders, international buyers, distributors, and educators for every type of fish, seafood, and seafood related products and services.  Top international and local celebrity chefs and oyster shuckers leveraged their skills and swagger to win prizes and epic bragging rights at a myriad of cooking competitions during the BC Seafood Festival Signature Weekend.

The Protein Index – Farmed salmon continues to be one of the most eco-efficient forms of protein production – with the lowest carbon footprint, and lowest feed conversion ratio, according to a report by the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) launched during the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels. B.C. salmon farmers emit only 2.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kilogram of edible fish produced. That is less than half of any animal raised on land, including 5.1 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of chicken, 6.4 kilograms for pork, and 37.2 kilograms for beef. In addition, salmon are cold-blooded, so they convert more of the food they eat to muscle than warm-blooded animals farmed on land – only 1.1 kilograms of feed is needed to increase a farmed salmon’s weight by one kilogram, while it takes 1.9 kilograms of feed for chicken, 3.8 kilograms for pork and 8.0 kilograms for beef.

UNDRIP – The NDP government in BC announced that it will adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which requires governments to obtain free, prior and informed consent for resource development from the local Indigenous people. There are about 200 distinct First Nations in B.C., each with their own unique traditions and history. More than 30 different First Nation languages and close to 60 dialects are spoken in the province, reflecting oral histories of conflicting and overlapping traditional territory claims. This, experts say will lead to questions as to who is the rightful local Indigenous authority to give consent.  The salmon farming industry in B.C. said it is looking forward to participating in government-to-government discussions to address issues about fish farms in traditional territories in relation to UNDRIP.

Value – Aquaculture accounts for over 33% of Canada’s total seafood value. In B.C., farm-raised salmon is responsible for about one-third of the provincial seafood harvest, over 60%of the landed value and almost half of the wholesale value of all B.C. seafood. About 70% of all salmon sold in B.C. is farm-raised. B.C. salmon farming companies support hundreds of individual initiatives for education, health and well-being, indigenous peoples, arts and sports – all of the organizations and activities that provide quality of life in a community. The salmon farming industry in B.C. expands across multiple service sectors, creating over 6,600 jobs in mainly coastal communities.

Whales – The survival of more than half the world’s Orcas are threatened by PCBs, industrial chemicals, overfishing and man-made noise said a new study conducted by researchers in the United States, Canada, England, Greenland, Iceland and Denmark. Here in B.C, The Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW), an iconic species faces significant threats, especially from the unchecked population explosion of seals which devour the orca’s preferred diet of the prized Chinook salmon. B.C.’s sports fishing industry has called for a cull of seals saying ““British Columbians who enjoy and depend on recreational sport fishing are being blamed for the small decline in the SRKW population by ill-informed and unscrupulous political groups pushing a devastating “environmental” agenda,” The Government responded with new critical habitat protection areas to protect both the southern and northern resident killer whales. Experts said the SRKW population has declined and rebounded four times. From a recorded high of 98 in 1995, to a low of 66 in 1973, there are now 74 SRKWs.

X-Factor – Among the biggest challenges faced by Canada’s aquaculture industry in 2018 was the battle against groups opposed to salmon farming in B.C. waters that used emotionally charged misinformation to engage with regulators, legislators, and the public. John Paul Fraser, the new executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said the industry’s priority in 2019 will be to earn the public’s trust and change the narrative from conflict to conversation.

 “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. 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,” stated Fraser, when he took on his new role last summer.

Year of the Salmon – In October, The International Year of the Salmon was launched in Vancouver to bring people together to share and develop knowledge more effectively, raise awareness and take action. Part of the initiative will involve an exhaustive hunt for the “likely suspects” impacting the iconic species at every stage of its lifecycle. A small army of fish sleuths, on both coasts of Canada will be involved in identifying the likely suspects behind the high mortality rates of salmon, to prompt specific, testable scientific hypotheses about the factors influencing the species decline. Next February, 17 scientists on board the Russian research trawler Professor Kaganovsky will be fishing for answers to better predict how the changing ocean environment affect salmon production in the Gulf of Alaska.

Z ero – 2018 ended the same way it started with no credible scientific evidence to link declines in Pacific salmon stocks at a population level to salmon farming on B.C.’s coasts. All initiatives and pronouncements to remove ocean-pen aquaculture operations to land-based farms were underlined with the “precautionary principles” approach. “Those wishing for a simplistic solution to restore Pacific salmon stocks to historic high levels suggest that removing salmon farms will accomplish that goal, which it will not,” wrote Dr. Donald Noakes, Dean of Science & Technology at Vancouver Island University. The fact is, no one really knows exactly why wild Pacific salmon populations are fluctuating. The Cohen Commission listed more than 20 activities affecting pacific salmon, including climate change (marine and fresh water), loss of habitat, predators, non-point sources of contaminants, forestry, and cumulative effects. In the meantime, 2018 saw record returns of Fraser River sockeye.  As of December, the count was at 10.6 million, with final numbers still trickling in. Of that, the commercial fishing sector was allowed to harvest 3.2 million sockeye.  First Nations took about 1.4 million sockeye, of which 482,000 was a commercial catch.


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