Canada reacts to Washington’s ban on Atlantic salmon farming

Canada remains committed to science and evidence-based decision making, not emotion, on future of Atlantic salmon farming.

By Fabian Dawson


The Government of Canada is committed to science and evidence-based decision making when it comes to the future of the country’s aquaculture industry, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in response to Washington State’s ban on Atlantic Salmon farming.

“We understand Canadians’ concerns around aquaculture and are committed to science and evidence-based decision making,” LeBlanc said, adding that a government panel is being convened on the appropriate use and consideration of scientific evidence, as it relates to aquaculture regulation.

Ottawa has also approved a multi-million dollar Aquaculture Sustainability Program, which aims to streamline regulation, improve regulatory management and increase scientific knowledge of the sector.

In a controversial move last Friday, Washington State senators voted to stop commercial net-pen aquaculture for Atlantic salmon in state waters after the current leases run out in 2025.

The legislation has been decried by the salmon farming industry and some of the world’s top scientists as an emotional and science-deficit response to the Cooke Aquaculture Pacific Atlantic salmon farm escape incident at Cypress Island last August.

Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said the Washington decision wasn’t based on science.

“We see this as an emotional response to a single mass escape at one farm,” said Dunn, adding,

“We do things differently here in B.C.”

The B.C. fish farming industry , which employs 6,600 people and contributes $1.5 billion to the economy has invested in technology and equipment to reduce escapes and all farms in the province are certified by an independent third party.

Dun said both the provincial NDP government and Ottawa have assured fish farmers that all regulations will be based on scientific research.

“We are aware of what is happening in Washington state, which does not affect the process we are following in B.C.,” said Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson in a statement. The B.C. government is currently reviewing its open-net fish farming leases in local waters.

At least five top American scientists and a globally respected fish endocrinologist, had urged Washington lawmakers to defer any decisions to ban Atlantic fish farming until they had an opportunity to present an overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science.

“We call on our esteemed elected representatives to delay any decisions regarding the future of salmon farming in Washington until the scientific community, represented in this state by some of the world’s leading aquaculture and fisheries scientists and researchers in the fields of fish culture, genetics, nutrition, and fish behavior, has had an opportunity to present science in a clear and objective light— rather than in a climate fueled by fear and propaganda.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) also refuted claims made by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) that there is any serious risk to wild salmon populations from escaped farmed Atlantic salmon.

But the Washington State Senate, prompted by the  anti-fish farm lobby, steamrollered the ban with 31-16 vote last Friday to eliminate the farms, without hearing the scientists.

Opponents of the Bill argued that is no example of the transfer of disease from farmed salmon to wild fish has ever been documented by a regulatory agency in Washington.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, minority leader of the Senate, said he opposed the ban because “I don’t think we should ban any job creator in this state. If we need to make improvements to regulation for the environment, that is reasonable. But an out-and-out ban is not.”

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s Vice President of Public Relations, Joel Richardson, said : “We are deeply disappointed in the action taken by the Legislature and the potential impact it could have on Washington’s 30-year salmon-farming industry and the more than 600 rural workers and their families that rely upon salmon farming for their livelihoods. Our employees remain our top priority.”

Here are some of the key elements established by the world’s leading aquaculture and fisheries scientists about Atlantic Salmon farming in the Pacific Northwest.

Interbreeding: Concerns about crossbreeding/ interbreeding farmed salmon (Atlantics) with wild Pacific stocks in the event of escapes are unfounded. Over the past 40+ years, hatchery scientists made many attempts to interbreed these different species; all were unsuccessful.

Competition for food: Concerns about farmed salmon taking over habitat, if, and when, they escape, are unfounded as well. Again, peer-reviewed studies have shown convincingly that “captive” or pen-reared salmon have not learned how to “hunt” for food, simply because they are used to being fed on a regular timetable. Atlantic salmon, in particular, appear to be non-competitive with local species. Moreover, when the stomachs of “escaped” Atlantic salmon are examined, they have been found to be empty. In B.C. over the last decade, fewer than 100 fish have escaped from salmon farms each year.

Habitat invasion: Scientists to date have found no evidence of Atlantic salmon spawning on the West Coast of North America. Canada’s Department of Fisheries (DFO) has consistently maintained that there is an extremely low likelihood of Atlantic salmon becoming established in B.C. waters.

Disease transmission: Salmon in an aquaculture setting are raised in a certified disease-free hatchery, then vaccinated against saltwater disease, and certified disease-free before they are moved to net pens. No example of disease transfer from farmed salmon to wild fish has ever been documented by any regulatory agency in the state of Washington.


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