"Buying and consuming sustainably farmed salmon is one of the best ways to save our wild salmon." - Michelle Franze, BCSFA Youth Council.

BC’s Blue Revolution with Michelle Franze

“Buying and consuming sustainably farmed salmon is one of the best ways to save our wild salmon”

By Samantha Bacchus McLeod

The newly unveiled Youth Council of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) is all about greening forward for sustainable aquaculture to feed Canada and the world. This strong group of young individuals, who are already making waves in aquaculture, will act as advisors for concepts brought forth by salmon farmers and as seafood ambassadors for BC. Over the next few months, SeaWestNews in a special series of Q and A presentations, will explore how members of BCSFA’s Youth Council play a role in British Columbia’s Blue Revolution. This segment on BC’s Blue Revolution features 26 year old Michelle Franze, Manager of Communications, Partnerships and Community for the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), and Co-Founder and Director of the BCSFA Youth Council.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

“I was born and raised in London, Ontario, and family has always been one of the most important aspects of my life…that, and my Italian heritage. My grandparents on both sides immigrated from Italy. My dad has thirteen siblings, my mom has four siblings, and I have three sisters, so big family dinners were a huge part of my life. I have always had great respect for food and sustainability.”

Why did you choose to be in the aquaculture field?

“I have always had a special connection to the water. I spent all my summers in the pool or at the beach. I knew that my future entailed being near the water. I just never knew how it would happen. After I graduated from high school I moved to Halifax, NS, for four years to attend Dalhousie University where I completed my BSc Majoring in Marine Biology and Minoring in Business.  During my time at Dalhousie I took an experiential learning course where I worked in the Aquatron Department. There I did a lot of husbandry and water quality work, and even got to be part of a project working with the Halifax Mermaids. Through this course I worked for a Marine Biologist, who I was able to learn a lot from. My initial dream while I was in school was to work in conservation and with marine mammals, but that changed when I was introduced to the aquaculture world.”

How did you make the transition from marine biology to aquaculture?

“After I graduated from Dalhousie and was on the hunt for a career, the marine biologist I worked for at Dalhousie heard of an opportunity in Prince Rupert, BC, that he thought I might be interested in. He put me in contact with another marine biologist who was looking to hire intern biologists for a small Indigenous owned scallop production company, which lead me to Prince Rupert, BC.

Prior to moving to Prince Rupert, I never had an interest in working in aquaculture. Growing up in Ontario I didn’t learn about it, and had no idea how big of an industry it was in Canada. My only knowledge was taking one course while in university and it actually led me to have a negative view of the industry.”

How did your perception of the industry change?

“My experience in Prince Rupert opened up a completely different side of the industry for me. I got to see the time, effort and care that went into producing a sustainable food source, while creating employment for a community that had been hit hard by the decline of fisheries. It was an eyeopener as I didn’t understand how a community in Canada, a first world country, couldn’t get access to reliable clean drinking water…we had a boil water advisory that lasted months. It truly felt like I was in a community forgotten by the rest of country, which should never be the case. More funding was needed to alleviate these problems… I quickly realised large industries play a huge part in providing vital funding in rural communities.”

Tell us more about your role in the scallop production industry.

“The scallops were like my babies. I was part of every aspect of their development and felt such pride in watching them grow, and I knew my co-workers felt the same. In working with live animals, there’s a different level of effort that you put into your work, because if you mess up, live animals die. When a mortality event happens in the aquaculture sector, you usually see a lot of negative media coverage and comments that makes it appear that the company experiencing the mortality is only concerned about the loss of money. I can tell you with complete certainty it hits those who care for the animals the hardest. You spend months and even years raising animals, putting in all your effort in making sure they are stress free and healthy at every step of their development. When a sudden unexpected loss occurs, it is devastating to us.  I became so passionate about aquaculture that I moved from Intern Biologist to Biologist/Hatchery Larval Supervisor during my time in Prince Rupert and I wanted to continue to grow. In my search for growth, I came across a job posting with the BC Salmon Farmers Association which checked every box on my career aspirational list.”

Did you know much about the industry, prior to launching your salmon farming career?

“In researching for the position, it felt like every media article I found was a negative story about the industry. At the time I had no knowledge about salmon farming, but I knew from my educational background and my experience working in aquaculture, that most of what I was reading couldn’t be true. It appeared to me that a sector of the industry was being attacked with no scientific evidence. Although, I was sad to leave my position in Prince Rupert, I knew I had move to Campbell River, BC to be part of a bigger fight. I knew I had to be a voice to help show why this industry is so important, and how it can be a solution for important issues such as food security, climate change and supporting rural communities.”

Would you call yourself an environmentalist?

“I would say so, yes. I was Minister of the Environment in elementary school, and later, in high school I always participated in environmental campaigns. I always thought of it as my duty to shed light on important issues surrounding our environment. Working in this field, I became more aware about the environmental aspect of the industry, how climate friendly it is, and why it is a solution to feed people without having to extract our wild resources.”

What do you think are the most crucial issues facing salmon farming in BC?

“I think public perception is one of the most important issues facing salmon farming in BC. Too many people have an opinion that aquaculture and salmon farming is bad, but they don’t really know why. In speaking with people at events (pre-covid), I would always hear people say the same terms in their reasoning for why they don’t like the industry, but they would never be able to elaborate on those terms. It became clear to me that most people were forming their opinions while reading the negative articles, that I had also came across while researching the industry. There are not a lot of people who will look beyond mainstream media to find the truth. A point that I can relate to, as I would have never become a supporter of aquaculture if I didn’t take the opportunity to work in the industry, and learn more about it. I want to be part of educating people on the reality of the industry and why it’s an important industry to grow in Canada.”

How do you see the future of fish, both farmed and wild, in BC?

“With the human population increasing at a rapid rate, the demand for protein is also increasing at a rapid rate. We need to utilize farmed fish as an alternative. I think we should be supporting wild and farmed, not one or the other. I want to live in a world where our wild stocks are protected so they can grow and thrive. The only way that this can happen is to reduce the amount of pressure we put on wild stock for consumer demand. Buying and consuming sustainably farmed salmon is one of the best ways to save our wild salmon.”

Your favourite seafood dish and why do you like it?

“Mowi Canada West has a BBQ they bring to events in the community every summer and the chefs, Cori and Pierre, are amazing. Every salmon dish they create makes me drool.  The BCSFA has also partnered with Culinary Team BC who created seafood dishes at many of our events last year, and every dish they served was also incredible.”

Salmon farmers in British Columbia have announced the development of a youth council to showcase the growing presence of young people in the sustainable future of farming the oceans. The individuals in the council will focus on key objectives and projects and will act as advisors for concepts brought forth by BCSFA members.