“While we have become accustomed to biased media reporting and activist discourse around our work, we expect a balanced and informed approach from a Parliamentary Committee.”
By Fabian Dawson
Canada’s seafood farmers say they are deeply concerned by the unbalanced and prejudicial stance taken by a Parliamentary committee in its report on the science that guides the nation’s salmon farming industry.
The committee’s report also facilitates attacks on government scientists, who have in 10 studies, found that British Columbia’s marine aquaculture operations have less than a minimal impact on wild stocks, said the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA).
“While we have become accustomed to biased media reporting and activist discourse around our work, we expect a balanced and informed approach from a parliamentary committee,” said CAIA in a recent letter to the committee chair, MP Ken MacDonald.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) tabled its report earlier this year with 48 recommendations after hearing from 57 witnesses over nine meetings.
During most of the hearings, the MPs gave anti-salmon farming activists, a friendly ear, without challenging any of their conspiracy theories nor their discredited science.
The committee members also declined invitations to make a trip to British Columbia for a tour of farms and science facilities, and to meet First Nations partners.
“Until you see for yourselves the care, science, innovation, product quality and partnership that goes into our farms, our sector will continue to be for you an activist-generated chimera that is not reflective of reality,” said Timothy Kennedy, president and CEO of CAIA, adding the invitation remains open.
Below is an excerpt from the letter sent to the Parliamentary Committee:
While the Report process is now complete, we nonetheless believe that it is important to put our views on the Report on the record for the Committee’s consideration as it proceeds with its work throughout the remainder of the parliamentary session.
Overall, as a sector we are deeply concerned by the unbalanced and prejudicial stance the committee appears to have adopted with respect to salmon farming. While we have become accustomed to biased media reporting and activist discourse around our work, we expect a balanced and informed approach from a parliamentary committee.
Our concerns with the Report can be summarized as:
• 8 of the Report’s 56 pages are devoted to aquaculture (specifically salmon farming) and makes frequent references to it in other sections and yet despite hearing from 57 witnesses and making seven recommendations explicitly dealing with aquaculture, it heard from zero witnesses from the sector and made zero reference to the sector’s written submission;
•It incorrectly characterizes aquaculture as a major threat to wild salmon;
• It falsely implies that the sector is unduly influencing government;
• It falsely implies that aquaculture is given far more attention and support by DFO than wild salmon issues;
• It falsely implies that the sector is complicit in “steamrolling” participants in the federal government-led scientific peer review process;
• No scientific rationale is offered in the Report for its implied conclusions with respect to the impact of aquaculture on wild salmon;
• No examples or evidence of the industry’s alleged influence on DFO or its scientific processes are offered in the Report.
Additionally, the Report neglects to mention these facts about modern advances in practice:
• Modern hatchery operations have substantial biosecurity and operational systems in place that simultaneously prevent disease and dramatically improve hatchery efficiency in water and electricity use.
• New feed formulations are consistently driving down the amount of fish oil and fish meal fed to farmed fish, and salmon farming is widely recognized as having the lowest carbon footprint of all major animal protein production, with a very high feed conversion ratio (feed converted into flesh) of nearly 1:1.
• Escapes from farms are near zero on an annual basis.
• Computerized feeding systems and high-resolution camera monitoring of feeding activity, now moving to introduce machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) in pens is reducing feed wastage to near zero.
• Sea lice levels on all farms are actively monitored and a range of new sea lice treatment methods are routinely deployed to keep sea lice levels under control, particularly during wild salmon migration seasons.
• First Nations guardians audit and monitor farms in British Columbia and these Nations are also developing independent science capacity.
• Fish disease is rarely detected on farms due to expansive vaccination programs, thus culls for fish health reasons are rare.
• Salmon farming companies have been recognized for being global sustainable protein leaders, as evidenced by the independent Coller-FAIRR annual sustainability index : salmon farmers hold seven of the top ten places, with two Canadian-based producers at #1 and #2 in the world.
Much of the commentary on the industry, including the sub-text of your Report, ignores these realities and reflects a very dated narrative that is rooted in practices from the past. In our view, it is essential that scientific research and related policy debates be focussed on the operational practices and realities of today, not of the previous century.
In a manner that is all too familiar in the public discourse of our times, when confronted with scientific research findings or other evidence that does not support a political advocacy position, the critics of our industry have turned to attacks on the people and processes that produced these conclusions rather than engaging in scientific debate. Your Report facilitates this trend in a disappointingly direct manner.
CAIA also rebuked the Parliamentary committee for not checking witness statements during the hearings “that amounted to unprecedented accusations of Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) corruption.”
The accusations, without any evidence being offered, directly challenged the professional integrity and ethics of DFO’s professional Public Servants, scientists and non-scientists alike.
“To our surprise and frustration, under the leadership of the previous Minister, the Government chose not to defend DFO scientists and decision-making processes and the Department’s response to your Report is remarkable for its unwillingness to defend its professional reputation,” said CAIA.
“The FOPO Report leaves much to be desired in this regard.”
File image of Canada’s Parliament