First-ever BC Aquaculture Innovation Awards announced as salmon farmers challenge Federal order to shut down their operations in the Discovery Islands.

Prize and prejudice in BC’s salmon aquaculture industry

First-ever BC Aquaculture Innovation Awards announced as salmon farmers challenge Federal order to shut down their operations in the Discovery Islands.

By Fabian Dawson

From advanced ship technology to vaccine development and environmental monitoring of the seas, BC is a global leader when it comes to   innovations in the aquaculture industry. 

Recognizing the value of the industry, the BC Government is dangling $325,000 in prizes for the province’s top aquaculture solutions as it launches its first-ever Aquaculture Innovation Awards event.

Ironically it comes at a time when BC’s salmon farmers, the backbone of the aquaculture industry, is under attack by the federal government, which wants them to transition away from open-net ocean farming on the west coast.

The salmon farmers are in court this month seeking a judicial review of the recent decision to phase out salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands, that was pushed for by anti-fish farm activists and at the expense of science.

The decision to close the 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits, and 1,535 fewer jobs, mainly in remote coastal communities of BC where there are very few alternative employment opportunities or income sources for families.

Prior to the Discovery Islands’ decision, BC’s salmon farmers announced they were planning to directly invest $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology and infrastructure, to boost Canada’s post pandemic recovery. The investments through 2050 would create almost 10,000 new jobs and add a cumulative $44 billion in new economic activity to propel Canada’s Blue Economy.

But the Discovery Islands decision, which flies in the face of peer-reviewed science, that showed salmon farms in the area had little or no impact on wild stocks, has had a chilling effect on the investment plans.

“We appreciate and notice the genuine efforts of partnership with the aquaculture industry made by the provincial government on our coast,” said John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

“As for Ottawa, we notice the exact opposite,” he said, pointing to the Discovery Islands decision that was made without any input from the BC Government, the industry or the coastal communities of North Vancouver Island, which are starting to feel the    devastating economic impacts of the planned fish farm closures. 

The Federal decision was based on politics, not science, said Fraser.

While trying to shut down open net fish farms in BC, the Federal government last week coughed up $12 million to develop ocean sensors that allow open-net pens in Atlantic Canada to be monitored and managed remotely from shore.

“There is one set of rules for salmon farming in Atlantic Canada and another for the West Coast,” said an aquaculture industry veteran.

In announcing the BC Aquaculture Innovation Awards,  Fin Donnelly, Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture, said: “the innovative ideas generated from this event will directly help B.C. companies and the coastal communities they support.”

“The B.C. government continues to support innovation in aquaculture as they improve efficiencies and competitiveness, reduce their environmental footprint, and market their products to consumers in B.C. and around the world,” he said.

Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs Economic Recovery and Innovation said the Aquaculture Innovation Awards are a great way to showcase the countless innovations being created by B.C. businesses throughout our province.

“With innovation at the forefront, industries like aquaculture can lead the way with advancements that will benefit our communities and our economy,” he said.

“Aquaculture is BC-strong, and this event is an example of making it stronger,” said  Raghwa Gopal, President + CEO, Innovate BC.

Applications to be considered for an award are now open and will close Mar 8, 2021 at 12pm PST. Innovations must be BC-based and solve needs by BC’s aquaculture market. Interested companies can    apply here. 

Farmed Atlantic salmon is BC’s top seafood export with a total economic output of $1.6 billion. The industry currently supports nearly 6,500 full time jobs that pay 30% higher than BC’s median income.

Meanwhile, a design of an aquaculture ocean pen, developed by the Campbell River-based Poseidon Ocean Systems is set to be deployed in Scotland for the first time.

Billed as “the world’s most advanced aquaculture steel cage system” the Trident hybrid steel cage can cope with high energy conditions off the coast of British Columbia, uses flexible HDPE pipes to improve safety and stability, while lowering the overall operational costs of salmon farming.

The new design has been ordered by salmon producer Loch Duart, through aquaculture distributor Trimara Services.

“We trust Trimara’s ability to deliver,” said Mark Warrington, managing director of Loch Duart, in a press release, “We want to be close to our fish and these cages will let us continue with our commitment to providing best-in-class husbandry while improving the working environment for our team.”

Image shows Grieg Seafood BC’s Gore Island farm in Nootka Sound near Gold River. Photo courtesy, Grieg Seafood BC.