eating fish

Opinion: If we want to keep eating fish we need to farm it — responsibly

By Jeremy Dunn

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association recently held community meetings in Campbell River and Nanaimo — two centres of our industry in this province. Over and over again we heard passion for the role B.C.’s salmon farms play in protecting wild salmon and helping feed a hungry world, but also frustration with the misinformation about our industry being perpetrated by a small, but loud, group of opponents.

Here is one quote from a meeting that stood out: “I come from a long line of educated and intelligent women. I care deeply for the environment and all wildlife. If I thought for one second that fish-farming was having a negative effect on the environment I would walk away from this industry.”

I’d like to address that frustration with some facts.

More than half the fish humans eat globally is farmed. In B.C., an average of 70 per cent of the salmon harvested each year comes from farms. Imagine for a moment what would happen to wild fish if our farms disappeared. We’d either have to stop eating fish or would quickly wipe out B.C.’s already-pressured wild-salmon runs.

Wild fish stocks simply can’t meet human demand. If we want to eat fish we need to farm it.

There is no question B.C.’s salmon farms have an environmental impact and, frankly, that the issues raised by our critics need to be addressed. The reality is all farming impacts the environment, whether on land or water. The trick is to farm responsibly, with environmental stewardship and protection of wild animals central to every decision. That is precisely what B.C.’s salmon farmers do. It’s our passion.

Said one participant in our community meetings: “… I consider myself both a fish-farmer and an environmentalist.”

Through ongoing research, consultation with coastal communities and First Nations, and significant investment in new technologies and equipment we’ve gotten a lot better at our work since the first farming nets were put into B.C. waters 30 years ago.

All salmon farms in B.C. have been  voluntarily certified by at least one audited, third-party, environmental-standards program, and abide by strict environmental rules.

In 2015, our industry association founded the Marine Environmental Research Program, committing $1.5 million through 2020 to independently oversee research into better understanding interactions between wild and farm-raised salmon, environmental dynamics and fish health. All our members carefully locate our farms in order to minimize their interactions with wild salmon and environmental impacts.

We have invested millions of dollars to address the issues raised by critics, and thus protect the environment and wild fish, while continuing to provide this important food.

Over that time, salmon farming in B.C. has become a diverse, multi-dimensional industry. While Atlantic salmon is our core product, one of our members, Creative Salmon, raises organic Chinook salmon on the west coast of Vancouver Island. They employ more than 50 local people, many of them First Nations. Another raises sablefish, one Coho, another steelhead.

We are equally passionate about our relationships with First Nations. In the past decade, every new salmon farm proposed in B.C. has been put forward with the support of local First Nations, secured through dialogue. Upwards of 20 per cent of the 6,600 jobs supported by B.C.’s salmon-farming industry are held by people of First Nations heritage. Our members have deals with 20 First Nations. Seventy-eight per cent of the salmon farmed in B.C. is done so in partnership with First Nations.

Numerous people from First Nations attended our community meetings. Said one: “I am a First Nations person from the Broughton Archipelago area, this area is my ancestral, traditional lands. The company contributes greatly to the towns of northern Vancouver Island, with employment, suppliers and trades people. I would be very disappointed to lose my job or be laid off due to any further restrictions imposed on the industry.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Jeremy Dunn is executive director of the   B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.



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