Why the Liberal Party is short-circuiting and disrespecting its own evidence based policy-making process for B.C.’s salmon farming industry.
By Fabian Dawson
There is a reason why election campaign time in Canada is called the silly season.
It’s a time of fantastical vows at the expense of science and reality.
A time of political posturing and hyperbole to get money and votes.
And a time of betrayal to shore up political points.
This year’s silly season has peaked early with the promise by the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals, to move all ocean-based salmon farms in British Columbia to land-based closed containment systems (RAS) by 2025.
This promise can be characterised in a few choice terms like “nonsense”, “reckless”, “destructive” and “careless”.
It is also a betrayal to the government’s commitment for a science-based approach to aquaculture that will support a healthy ocean, good jobs, and economic prosperity on our coasts.
Trudeau and his Liberals are willing to give ear to the apocalyptic hyperbole of a few urban professional activists, at the expense of scientists, peer-reviewed studies and thousands in coastal and indigenous communities, who rely on sustainable aquaculture for their livelihoods.
The foremost experts in land-based closed containment systems using water recirculation systems, are open-net salmon farmers.
Their fish spend more than half their lives in land-based hatcheries before being transferred to a natural ocean environment to grow to market size.
They are the ones driving innovation in this area, not the activists who sell their science-deficit message to courtrooms, newsrooms and boardrooms.
Salmon farmers know what they are talking about when they say that the technology does not exist on a scale to move all ocean-based farms in B.C. to land by 2025.
Just ask land-based fish farm pioneers in B.C., like Brad Hicks, who helped build the first RAS facility on Vancouver Island, or Don Read, a partner in land-based group West Creek Aquaculture, Steve Atkinson, president of Taste of B.C. Aquafarms in Nanaimo, or Sean Wilton, CEO of Agrimarine Holdings Inc.
It seems like the only ones pushing to move all ocean farms onto land, are the ones who have never done it or they see it as a huge cash opportunity.
Much of the muscle and recent hysteria behind the push to land-based fish farming comes from the big-money boys in urban centres.
These guys know that they don’t stand a chance going up against sustainable open-net ocean farmers. Therefore, they fund manipulative, self-interested campaigns to capitalise on oversimplified complex aquaculture issues, contested science and misinformation.
When they get momentum on social media and gather up the fearful in large numbers, the politicians follow suit.
Here in British Columbia – which has been a graveyard for land-based recirculating aquaculture systems – this is manifested by a group which is planning a multi-million-dollar development of an aquaculture park.
They are using the eco-hype to raise money from the public and get the government to give them a million bucks for their land-based fantasy.
Several of the key players are also linked to Kuterra, a flailing land-based aquaculture operation in B.C., which has already hoovered up about six million dollars of taxpayer’s money from the federal government.
Another of their schemes, is to back studies like “RAS Atlantic Salmon Industry on Vancouver Island–Financial Model & Economic Impact Analysis” which was commissioned by the Fraser Basin Council.
This study using a combination of literature from promotional material designed to entice capital and mythical projections looked at the potential economic impact of the development of a dream 50,000-tonne Atlantic salmon recirculating aquaculture system industry on northern Vancouver Island.
The study’s own advisory committee told them the data the researchers were using was nonsensical. The authors then modified their projections based on an average of the mythical data rather than real data.
Brad Hicks, a veteran land and ocean-based fish farmer, wrote that even with reliance on the toned-down data, the financial model used in the report could barely squeak out a profit, the risk of insolvency was very high and the fanciful rates of return on deployed capital would not be sufficient to attract serious investment.
“Since investors would be difficult to attract, on the basis of such poor financial performance, the report suggests that the government risk taxpayers’ money instead by providing a number of incentives to attract investment. The assumption being, it is okay to use taxpayers’ money to invest in fantasies,” states Hicks, who has spent decades in the aquaculture industry.
For years now the Liberal mantra on fish farming in B.C., constantly spouted by Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard is that the “Government of Canada is committed to advancing an evidence-based aquaculture sector that is both responsible and sustainable.”
Canada’s chief scientific advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer has also called for greater ongoing stakeholder engagement in the context of an open science process that would enhance public trust and scientific understanding of the aquaculture industry.
But science, reality and sustainability be damned when it comes to the race to be prime minister.
“This careless step by the Liberal Party also disrespects the very policy work and process that the federal Minister has directed,” said John Paul Fraser, the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).
“Today, our industry is actively engaged in a technical working group on technology, working with all levels of government, First Nations, and non-government organizations to continue fostering technological innovation in ocean farming.
“And part of these discussions is a conversation about the growing trend of hybrid systems – which integrate land and sea based systems – as a strong ‘made-in-B.C.’ step forward.
“In fact, a draft report commissioned by the Minister that is being deliberated by the working group concludes that ‘the new technologies discussed in this report, as well as conventional net pen systems, will all play a role in contributing to global production of salmon products.”
“So, the question really is: why is the Liberal Party short-circuiting and disrespecting its own collaborative and evidence based policy-making process?”
As the answer to that question becomes more evident, the policy wonks at the Liberal party have totally ignored that their proposed move to ban open-net ocean farming in B.C. would bring significant environmental, fish health welfare concerns and devastating socio-economic damage in rural coastal communities.
“To grow salmon to market size and meet the global demand would require massive amounts of land, water and energy…And most importantly there are animal welfare considerations,” said Susan Farquharson, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association.
“These election promises amount to nothing more than an attempt to pander for votes to a vocal minority who oppose salmon farming in British Columbia,” concludes Farquharson.
The Liberals in their betrayal to the industry, coastal and indigenous communities have scrambled behind the rhetoric of the “Precautionary Principle” for their policy plank, which uses hypothetical theories to suit their cause.
Translated, the politicians want fish farmers to “prove-the-negative” using the “sky is falling” hype.
This episode of political betrayal to B.C.’s sustainable innovative and growing fish farming businesses tells us that Canadians also need to take a precautionary principle when they go to the polls on Oct 21.
This will protect us from politicians who will do or say anything to get votes.
The impact of land-based fish farming in Canada
2 billion kgs of salmon (world production) grown on land-based farms would produce 526 billion kgs greenhouse gas emissions 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
Water and land use
Growing 75,000 MT of salmon (British Columbia’s average production) grown at 18kg/m3 in a 99% RAS system would require 4.16 billion litres of freshwater just to fill the tanks. 10-day required depuration period before harvest would require an additional 998 billion litres of freshwater The current production in Canada alone would require 28,000 Canadian football fields, 33,719 acres, or 159 square kilometers of land to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems. Freshwater is our most important resource – do we really want to move a sustainable sea based industry to land and increase demand on our freshwater resources? Goal Six of the United Nations Sustainability Goals speaks to the conservation of freshwater and ensuring access to freshwater globally. When you can grow salmon sustainable at sea, moving to land and using more of our freshwater resources is irresponsible.
Marine farms: density of 15 – 25kg of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. Land based farms: density of 50 – 80kg of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. That makes for really crowded land-based tanks. Marine based salmon farming allows salmon to remain in their natural environment. This is where they belong for the end of their grow out, not in land based artificial fish factories. Land based facilities do not eliminate environmental or disease concerns. Pathogens in land-based systems have caused the loss of all fish in some facilities.
Socio-economic realitiesSome small-scale land-based farms are producing fully-grown salmon for niche markets, and the reality is, the largest of these produces only 300MT per year. By comparison, Canada produces on average 108,000MT per year. Land based indoor salmon farms are more than three times as expensive to operate as traditional ocean salmon farms. Increased use of land-based farms would encourage the relocation of production closer to the main markets. This would have a major socio-economic impact on coastal communities around the world. – Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association