A love for real science and real experiences underlines Kenny Leslie’s advocacy for salmon farming
Kenny Leslie thrives on real science and real experiences to drive his passion for salmon farming in B.C. A graduate of Environmental and Sustainability Studies, University of Dundee, Kenny is a supervisor at Marine Harvest Canada’s Victory Big Tree Creek Hatchery on Vancouver Island. Born in Forfar, the county town of Angus, Scotland, Kenny and his wife Brealynne, live in Campbell River. SeaWestNews caught up with him for a Q and A at the recent Seafood West 2018 summit.
Why did you move to Campbell River?
“I met my wife, Brealynne, in Prince George where I did part of my undergraduate degree at UNBC. Brealynne’s family ties are in Campbell River so that gave us a good base to move back to Canada. Campbell River was a good place to set our roots down, to raise our family.”
What do you like about Campbell River?
“Campbell river is a great city! there’s good and bad but no location in the world is perfect, perfect is boring. If you love being in the outdoors and being in the environment then Campbell River is a great place to be. When you live here, you’re not far from the North island where there’re umpteen forest’s side roads to take you into the middle of nowhere. We have mountains, where we can go hiking in the summertime, or skiing in the winter. There’s fishing, there’s surfing on the water. Everything is within a few hours so there’s no long-distance traveling away if you want to get out in the environment and enjoy life.”
Why did you choose aquaculture?
“Truthfully with my degree, and my degree being environmental sustainability, I knew I had 3 options as far as working for resource based industries and it was either going into forestry, mining or aquaculture.
Forestry you got to be, or follow a very specific list of guidelines in order to get in. You have to become professionally dedicated to only forestry, so for me it was very hard to do that.
Mining, has never been a high-up choice, in my opinion, for me. Not to say I am against mining, I just wasn’t ready to go into that avenue.
That left aquaculture as a good place to go, and long and short of it, Marine Harvest being the fact that they are the biggest of the three companies on Vancouver Island it was an easy shot to bombard them with my resume.”
Was it the right choice for you?
“I have been educating everyone I meet on aquaculture, for many years. As much as I didn’t necessarily know much about aquaculture in Scotland, here part of my degree did focus on aquaculture so I already had a love for the industry…Now that I am there, my opinion of aquaculture hasn’t changed. I still love what we do and I know that what we do is the right thing.”
Wild or farmed or should it be wild and farmed?
“I love wild salmon the same as the next person, but it doesn’t mean it has to be our only choice. We cannot continue to strip mine the ocean for wild catch. I like farm raised salmon, it’s amazing, if nothing else the versatility is the key to its success… I am not a good cook but I can cook Atlantic salmon. The way that it cooks is marvellous and it is a healthy way to get the necessary nutrients we need. Atlantic salmon and wild salmon are not much different nutritionally. I can cook and eat Atlantic salmon for all the healthy and tasty benefits, as I would wild salmon, but it is a different fish at the end of the day. You cannot compare one to the other, and people who do that need to realize that that’s not what this is about, we need to understand that this is an entirely different species and the meat is different.”
How do you view the anti-salmon farm sentiments?
“There is no way to pinpoint to a single misconception as there are many because it all depends on the way the wind is blowing in a day. I know what anti-fish farm people, or as John (executive director of the BCSFA John Fraser) mentioned today “opinion-opponents”, like to say and they will say everything they want to say without consequences. That makes me upset, because it seems like sometimes, or a lot of times, that whatever I say doesn’t matter. What I say is always backed up by real science and by my real experiences, but if it doesn’t fit into their agenda then they are opposed to what I have to say. It’s a tough thing to overcome, the attacks. Our farms are open for tours, anyone and I mean anyone can come on a farm tour. If they come they can see what we do, how we raise our fish, and how passionate we, the regular people working with fish, are. What we do is about farmed being in conjunction with wild salmon, they can both thrive. There’s lots of water, there’s plenty of space, and there’s no evidence that suggests farmed impacts wild. People have to realize it is two different fish, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.”
How do you respond to concerns about farm raised fish?
Think realistically…please don’t just believe what you choose to read and what you are told to think. Be an individual and try the fish for yourself, you may love it, you may not, but at least you know for yourself. I don’t think everyone loves beef, but those who like steak love it. So, if you like seafood, which includes fish, then enjoy some farm-raised fish. Don’t do basic and boring, get some fresh fish and put some flavour into it, put some work into it and enjoy farmed fish before you write it off.
How diverse is your workplace?
“Diversity is tantamount to the company I work for; I can say that without a shadow of a doubt. If we are talking about gender diversity, we have a good proportion of females on our staff. This has been mentioned and covered in many places. Women in aquaculture is a very big part of what we do. I am part of CAIA” – Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance – National Youth Council and one of the things we look at how, particularly more for the east coast, is they want to increase the number of youths in aquaculture. CAIA’s definition of youth is considered to be anyone under 35 years old. We don’t have that problem in BC. If you look around at all the sites they’re a lot of us under 35.”
What about ethnic and cultural representation?
“We have all sorts of ethnic and national diversities, my hatchery alone has 5 different representations, from First Nations here in Canada, to Scotland, India, South Africa and Ireland. These are not people that came to Marine Harvest from different countries, these are people who were already in this area and a part of our company.
In the Broughton, Port Hardy, and the sea sites areas for example, there is a larger proportion of local band members than there are of any other nationalities. There is First Nation representation throughout the company.”
“I don’t see myself leaving Marine Harvest anytime soon. Beyond that, honestly, I take it day by day. I am in a great position, I am in a great facility right now, I have no reason to be looking beyond my blessings, for the next few years. In life, we see what the next chapter brings when it comes up.”