Salmon farming critic claims Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has betrayed her election promise and says idea of transitioning from open net aquaculture to land-based salmon farming in British Columbia is now a “dead horse”

Idea of growing salmon on land is a “dead horse”

Salmon farming critic claims Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has betrayed her election promise and says idea of transitioning from open net aquaculture to land-based salmon farming in British Columbia is now a “dead horse”

By Fabian Dawson

After years of campaigning to oust salmon farmers from British Columbia’s oceans, one of the industry’s most vocal critics, Alexandra Morton, is now saying that the idea of growing fish on land is a “dead horse”.

Morton has also turned her sights on Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, once a darling of the anti-salmon farming lobby, claiming the minister has betrayed her election promise to transition open-net finfish farms to land-based operations in BC.

“I am beyond disgusted – Federal Liberals have decided to betray BC Coast”’ Morton said in a Facebook posting, claiming Minister Murray “has now turned and is going to work with them (salmon farmers)….”

“Canada Fisheries Minister’s transition plan could take mandate to move salmon farms to closed-containment systems off the table…Murray said transitioning to closed containment systems is no longer part of her mandate,” she wrote on Facebook.

In an interview with MyCowichanValleyNow, Morton, whose conspiracy theories and apocalyptic prophecies to demonize salmon farmers have been widely discredited said she feels on-land fish farms are a “dead horse”, and that “not many people are interested in this type of farm.”

“If farming were to continue on land, Morton says it would happen after open-net pens are out of the water for a more level playing field…cut the salmon farmers out of this discussion…they really don’t belong in the middle of this discussion.” the news site reported the activist as saying.

Her comments follow the recent  engagement tour on Vancouver Island by Minister Murray, who met with First Nations, industry and community leaders while the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) works on a transition plan to determine the future of the salmon farming in BC.

The Trudeau Liberals in a pre-election pledge, to primarily secure votes from the anti-fish farming lobby, had said it will come up with a plan to transition open-net aquaculture operations in BC by 2025.

Minister Murray has moved that timeline up saying she will have a transition plan in place next year and a new licensing regime devised by June 2024.

Morton’s claim that the government is now going back on its word to remove all open-net salmon farms to land-based operations as part of the transition process is false.

As far back as November 2020, the government has been clear that transitioning open-net salmon farms in British Columbia’s waters, does not necessarily mean ousting fish farmers from the oceans to land-based operations.

The future of salmon farming in BC could involve a range of technologies including hybrid grow-out operations, closed and semi-closed containment systems in the ocean together with an area-based management approach, said Terry Beech, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries.

Beech had also defended DFO scientific studies that show salmon farms pose minimal threats to migrating wild stocks, which have been decried by anti-fish farm activists as “industry-influenced”. He urged all stakeholders to work together for a BC-based solution that will allow aquaculture to grow sustainably alongside efforts to replenish diminishing wild stocks.

The   State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study to guide the transition process has warned that land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

Global fisheries, aquaculture and climate scientists have labelled the activism around moving all BC salmon farms to land based operations as unrealistic, reckless, and destructive because growing the global supply of salmon on land would require the same amount of energy per year needed to power a city of 1.2 million people and contribute to higher CO2 emissions.

Raising land based Atlantic salmon also costs 12 times more than ocean farming, they said.

Moving the current production of Atlantic salmon to land based tanks on Vancouver Island will result in an increase 22,881,000 kgs of Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, a recent study said. That is equivalent to the energy needed per year to power a population of 52,200 or a city the size of North Vancouver.

 In B.C. alone, there are many failed attempts to grow either Pacific or Atlantic salmon in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) over the past 20 years. More recently, land-based salmon farming pioneer Atlantic Sapphire has suffered a series of setbacks that is likely to wipe out their projections to turn a profit in the near future, reported TheFishSite.

The BC coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) has also said that moving to land-based salmon farming is not an option for aquaculture-dependent coastal indigenous communities in British Columbia.

“Some Nations in this coalition have completed feasibility studies on land-based salmon farming in their territories for many years, and they came to the same result: it is not possible, and if it was, they would have moved to land-based salmon farming years ago,” FNFFS said.

In a statement thanking Murray for her recent visit, FNFFS said “during your visit you heard from more than a dozen hereditary and elected Chiefs who are fighting for their inherent right to host finfish farming as they see fit in their traditional marine spaces.”

The statement outlined key messages the coalition heard from Minister Murray during her recent visit including that existing operations need to adopt alternative technology that will progressively eliminate or minimize interactions between wild and farmed salmon.

“While our visions for this transition process clearly differed from yours on many points during our meetings, one commonality we have between our Peoples and your mandate is our passion to protect wild Pacific salmon,” said coalition spokesperson Dallas Smith.

“Our fate as coastal Indigenous Peoples is tied to that of wild salmon, and we want to reiterate that we would not risk thousands of years of our successful traditional stewardship for short-term monetary gain,” he said.

According to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) farm-raised salmon is the most popular seafood choice of Canadians.

About 97 per cent of salmon produced in Canada is farm-raised, which is key to sustainably meeting the growing demand for Canadian salmon, while at the same time reducing pressure on limited wild stocks, states CAIA.

“Salmon farming in Canada is highly regulated, achieves third-party environmental certification standards, creates long-term economic growth for rural, coastal, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, employs 14,500 Canadians, and generates over $4 billion in economic activity annually,” the organisation said.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said salmon farming supports nearly 7,000 jobs in coastal communities and contributes about $1.5 billion to the provincial economy annually.

“It was heartening to hear that the Minister is seeking to work with us to support the development of the Transition Framework. In order to successfully drive further innovation and technology adoption, there needs to be flexibility to allow for various pathways,” said BCSFA interim Executive Director, Ruth Salmon.

(Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray gets a first-hand look at First Nations salmon farming operations during her visit to Vancouver Island)