BC salmon farm closures will trigger substantial economic disruptions, massive job losses and heighten the nation’s food insecurity, states a new report

The price of shutting down salmon farms in BC

BC salmon farm closures will trigger substantial economic disruptions, massive job losses and heighten the nation’s food insecurity, states a new report

By Fabian Dawson

Activist-driven government closures of fish farms in British Columbia has left Canadians facing soaring salmon prices and a whopping increase in carbon emissions, states a new study.

Canada is now buying more salmon from different parts of the world, with import quantities rapidly rising since 2021, states the study, predicting that local salmon prices will increase over CAD 30 per kilogram by 2026.

This price increase is anticipated to intensify with the reduction in the volume of salmon production in the future, said the study, which was funded by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab of Dalhousie University.

In short, BC salmon farm closures carry profound consequences for both the environment and market dynamics and will trigger substantial economic disruptions, massive job losses and heighten the nation’s food insecurity, the authors of the report concluded.

The study published in the MDPI journal comes as the Federal government currently considers renewing the soon-to-expire salmon farming licenses, pending the formulation of a Transition Plan for the sector in the province.      

The Liberal government, at the behest of activists, has already shut down 40% of salmon farms since 2020, wiping out hundreds of jobs that are the lifeblood of rural, coastal and Indigenous communities.

Before the shutdowns the salmon farming sector was the largest agri-food export in British Columbia. The sector employed approximately over 6,500 people, produced close to 500 million salmon meals per year, received inputs from over 1,000 individual suppliers and had an economic value of $2 Billion.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, which is fighting to retain its traditional rights to farm fish in its territorial waters, said salmon farming in BC directly and indirectly employs over 700 Indigenous people and provides $120 million in total annual economic benefits to First Nations, with $42 million going directly to Indigenous communities. Today, 100 per cent of BC’s farmed salmon is raised in agreement with Rights Holder First Nations.

According to the new study, Canada imported approximately 86,300 and 86.387 tonnes of salmon in 2021 and 2022, respectively, which is about 20,000 tonnes more than in previous years.

The imports include various forms of salmon, including fresh, preserved/prepared, frozen, and canned, primarily sourced from Norway, the United Kingdom, Chile, China, Mexico, and Iceland.

It is estimated that the salmon imports from these countries generated approximately 84.56 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per kilometer in 2021 and 86.3 million tonnes in 2022, which is approximately 9.9 million tonnes more than in 2020.

The average Canadian vehicle releases 4600 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. The estimated increase in CO2 emissions (from 2020) released by the increased imports is equal to the emissions released by 2,152,000 vehicles a year in Canada.

Imports from China and Chile produce the highest number of emissions, as the distance is far from Canada compared to other countries, said the study.

The new study states that the decision to close BC farms reverberates far beyond the boundaries of supply and demand and that the direct consequence of curtailing the remaining 65,800 tonnes of farmed salmon production is the triggering of substantial economic disruptions and food insecurity.

Specifically, the BC salmon farming sector will face an annual economic loss of CAD 1.2 billion across Canada, a CAD 447 million decrease in GDP contributions, the elimination of over 4,690 job opportunities, and a resulting reduction in family incomes of CAD 266 million annually, the study said.

“Aquaculture, particularly salmon farming, stands as a multifaceted solution to the challenges of food security, offering sustainable production practices, nutritional benefits, and economic opportunities.

“As nations navigate the complexities of meeting their food needs in a rapidly changing world, the role of aquaculture, including salmon farming, remains indispensable in shaping a secure and resilient food future,” the study authors said.

Highlights of the study by the numbers;

  • 60% – With aquaculture accounting for 60% of Canada’s overall salmon production in quantity and value, the industry wields significant influence over both provincial and national economies. Consequently, the salmon industry in BC strengthens Canada’s position as the fourth-largest producer globally, trailing only behind Norway, Chile, and the UK.
  • $1.9 billion – The BC salmon farming sector generated CAD 1.9 billion in economic activity in 2020. This translated to an infusion of CAD 721 million into Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provided employment to 7,560 Canadian citizens.
  • 1 – Farm-raised salmon, the most popular seafood choice of Canadians, has long been BC’s top agri-food export and has one of the lowest carbon footprints of animal proteins.
  • 80,000 – Canada’s imports of salmon have increased rapidly since 2021; Canada imported approximately 20,000 tonnes more salmon in 2022 than in previous years, generating 58,000 more tonnes of CO2—equal to the emissions of 80,000 vehicles/year.
  • 3.3 billion – Fish, a primary product of aquaculture, nourish 3.3 billion people globally, accounting for a significant 20% of their animal protein intake. Notably, per capita fish consumption has witnessed a remarkable upsurge, from a modest 9 kg in 1961 to a substantial 20.5 kg in 2018, highlighting its growing significance in diets worldwide.
  • 8.5% – Canadian protein consumption from fish and seafood reached 8.5% in 2019, surpassing other meat proteins such as pork (6.2%) and all other meats (6.1%).
  • 18% – In the global Atlantic salmon trade, Canada ranks as the second-largest supplier to the United States, with Chile occupying the top position. From 2019 to 2022, there was a notable drop of 18% in the volume of salmon Canada exported to the United States. By 2022, Canada’s share of the U.S. salmon market had contracted to 14%.
  • 86.7% – Studies show that fish and seafood hold a prominent place in the Canadian diet. A survey conducted in 2023 revealed that 86.7% of Canadians regularly include fish and seafood in their meals. The primary reason to eat seafood is nutrition (64%), rather than affordability (21%). In terms of regional feeding preferences, BC tops the list, with the highest preference for fish and seafood consumption every week (45.8%). In contrast, Quebec has the lowest weekly consumption rate (27.2%).
  • CAD 150,000 – Household income significantly influences preferences for farmed fish. Households with incomes exceeding CAD 150,000 showed the highest preference (53.3%), followed by those in the CAD 35,000–CAD 74,999 bracket at 50.2%, and the CAD 75,000–CAD 149,000 bracket at 48.6%.
  • 11 – In 2022, the average per capita consumption of meat protein in Canada amounted to 575 instances annually. Conversely, there was a reduction in the frequency of fish and seafood consumption, declining from 61 occasions per year to 54. Notably, in 2022, the specific consumption of salmon registered a relatively modest figure, with individuals partaking in this particular fish variety only 11 times within the same interval.
  • 83,180 – In 2019, the export of 83,180 tonnes of farmed salmon in BC, valued at CAD 771 million, significantly contributed to the creation of 353 million meals enriched with high-quality protein while minimizing CO2 emissions. Salmon emerged as an exemplar of environmentally conscious protein sourcing, generating a mere 0.6 g of CO2 emissions in 2019 in BC. In stark contrast, other conventional meat sources such as chicken, pork, and beef accounted for 0.88 g, 1.3 g, and 5.92 g of CO2 emissions, respectively.

(Image of a farmed Atlantic Salmon courtesy of Cermaq)