Ousting ocean-based farms to grow fish on land not a good idea, says Mark Kurlansky, the New York Times bestselling author of “Salmon”, published by Patagonia.
By Fabian Dawson & Samantha McLeod
Mark Kurlansky, the New York Times bestselling author of “Salmon”, is urging anti-fish farm activists to work with salmon farmers and boost the production of affordable and sustainable seafood from the oceans.
In an interview with SeaWestNews, Kurlansky said replacing sea farms with land-based operations, as the activists are demanding in British Columbia, is not a good idea because it will exacerbate climate change and substantially increase Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions.
“Land based farming greatly increases energy use and the carbon footprint…I do not think that is a good idea,” said Kurlansky, who spent five years researching his book, which was published by Patagonia, the outdoor clothing conglomerate, which ironically supports activism to stop ocean-based fish farming.
“Farming salmon in the oceans has almost no carbon footprint…almost all of the energy used, apart from packaging the food, is provided by the natural force of the ocean…so you will be taking a low energy industry and turning it into a high energy industry,” he said.
“I would certainly not want to see all fish farms move on land, and I also would not want to see all ocean fish farming stopped, because I think it has a good contribution and it is a supply of affordable protein. That is not something to turn your back on,”
“I have looked at some land-based operations in Scandinavia and New England. The ones I have looked at are clearly increasing their carbon footprint. They do not deny it,” said Kurlansky.
Urging environmentalists to work with salmon farmers to find better solutions, Kurlansky said his experience with aquaculture companies that farm the seas is “that they are pretty honest and they are very open about it.”
“I think that if environmentalists try and work with them, they can work with them and solutions will be found.
“But if you come from a position that the industry has to be shut down then there is really nothing to talk about…I think that is an important lesson to a lot of environmentalists.
“In the case of British Columbia, I have to say that salmon runs have been steadily declining for over one hundred years and suddenly it is all the fault of the salmon farmers who arrived twenty years ago…the greatest problem is climate change.
“I think we should be looking for technologies, low carbon technologies, and we should not be moving to any higher carbon technologies,” said Kurlansky, adding he does not agree with Patagonia’s push for activism to oust ocean-based salmon farmers.
“Yeah, we had a few conflicts on both hatcheries and salmon farming… I do not really agree with their brand of environmentalism…You know, they were angry with me for talking to fish farmers and I said, what do you mean I have to talk to them.
“They thought I was too soft on the fish farmers and all these fish farming organisations were angry with me they said I was too hard on them…So when you are getting it from both sides you just feel like you are doing something right.”
Kurlansky’s comments come in the wake of a new plan by BC salmon farmers 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, said an independent report.
Following the report, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said the Liberal government’s pledge to transition 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, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries.
Current estimates show that some two billion kg of salmon (world production) grown on land-based farms would produce 526 billion kg 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 and contribute to higher CO2 emissions.
The current production in Canada alone would require 28,000 Canadian football fields, 33,719 acres, or 159 sq. km of land to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems. Raising land based salmon also costs 12 times more than ocean farming, studies have shown.
Kurlansky’s book, “Salmon” was yet another attempt by Patagonia, a multi-national corporation based in Ventura, California to demonise maritime aquaculture and market to activists, said Jeanne McKnight, Executive Director of the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA).
“We challenge Patagonia, a company that professes to believe in sustainability and science, to engage with us, with our Alliance members, and with our science advisors—who include some of the most respected names in fisheries— to understand the peer-reviewed science regarding marine aquaculture.
“Our message to Patagonia: We can help. We’ll be waiting for your call.”