Salmon are precious gifts, Dr. Jim Powell

“Salmon are a precious gift to all of us”

After an illustrious career in fisheries and aquaculture spanning four decades, Dr. Jim Powell retires from his role at the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences

By Fabian Dawson

From lecture halls to laboratories, to salmon farms and while addressing those opposed to them, Dr Jim Powell’s message over the past 40 years has always been about farmed and wild, not farmed or wild.

“Sustainable aquaculture provides a good food product and helps in the conservation efforts for wild fish,” said Dr. Powell, as he retired from his role as the CEO of the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BC CAHS).

While the polarising debate over salmon farming shows no sign of letting up, Dr. Powell called on both sides of the issue to work collaboratively to ensure a future for salmon in BC that is driven by science and knowledge, instead of anxiety and speculation.

“Both sides need stability…those opposed to farming in the ocean need a stability to ensure their concerns are addressed and the fish farmers need a stability to grow sustainably…we don’t have that now,” he told SeaWestNews.

“The most enjoyable thing in my career is to witness the dedication and passion for salmon enhancement work by government officials, First Nations, NGOs and those in aquaculture…they know salmon are simply not about economics…salmon are a precious gift to all of us.”

“We need to increase our knowledge base about this gift…where they spawn, where they feed, their migratory patterns rather than focus on the perceived threats to wild stocks from fish farms,” said Dr. Powell.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Burnaby, Dr. Powell, a father of two, moved to work on a salmon farm on Nelson Island with his wife Melinda in 1984. Later he helped create seven farm sites in the Tofino area, five of which are still active today.

“It was coffee for breakfast and scotch for dinner and 16 hour days,” said Dr. Powell, 62.

He then completed a doctorate in neuroendocrinology from the University of Victoria and an Industrial Post-Doctoral appointment in controlled maturation and spawning of captive fish.

Dr. Powell joined BC CAHS as the CEO in May 2014. The BC CAHS is a non-profit organization with a state-of-the-art laboratory serving all stakeholders in fisheries and aquaculture, First Nations and the salmon enhancement communities. It is dedicated to helping the recovery of salmon abundance through research to identify fish pathogens that impact salmon health.

Without question, Dr. Powell’s contributions during his tenure as CEO have helped BC CAHS to develop and reach its current level of service and involvement, said Maureen Ritter, Chair of the BC CAHS Board.

“Jim’s most recent contribution was to successfully spearhead and secure funding for the creation of an aquatic animal health wet lab which will pave the way for BC CAHS to enter into additional aquatic animal health research and environmental monitoring in BC. Jim knew the value of research collaborations and actively facilitated them with various universities, colleges, industry and First Nations,” she said.

Dr. Powell said the Level 2 lab will help researchers conduct the much-needed additional scientific studies aimed to better understanding of what ails our salmon.

“The work at this lab will help us reduce the unknown about our wild and farmed fish,” said Dr. Powell, who has published dozens of scientific papers.

On the push in B.C. by ENGOs to move all ocean farms to land-based operations, Dr. Powell said the technology is not there yet to do it successfully.

“It’s not a sustainable option yet and   land based operations are energy hogs  ,” he said.

Dr Powell said that a more sustainable solution would be hybrid systems for growing larger Atlantic salmon smolts on land before they are transferred to the marine environment.

“This will reduce seawater residency time for the farmed fish and ensure a continuity of quality supply,” he said.

Ian Roberts the director of communications for Mowi Scotland said: “British Columbia is blessed with many dedicated researchers that have advanced fisheries science.

“Jim’s passion for both fisheries and aquaculture, and his drive for successful collaboration between the two sectors is vitally important to BC…It is what will help ensure the Province and Canada continues to lead in ocean conservation and seafood production.”

“I was fortunate to not only witness Jim’s passion for his work at BC CAHS, but also for his community. If you are a soccer player in Campbell River, you will recognise Jim as the man dressed in yellow with a whistle in hand. Now, whether you agree with the call on the pitch is for another article.”

So, what now for one of Canada’s foremost fisheries and aquaculture expert after a career dedicated to studying salmon?

“I will be fishing more and working less,” said Dr. Powell.