salmon farming debate

The science of uncertainty dogs the salmon farming debate

Both sides in the salmon farming debate recognize that there are gaps in research, studies and investigations but they disagree on what to do about it.

The debate around fish farming in Canada has for the most part pit economics against the environment.

As we observe World Fisheries Day this year, it will be worthwhile to note the debate has morphed to become one about science.

The bottom line here is both sides recognize that there are gaps in research, studies and investigations but they disagree on what to do about it.

One thing however is sure.

More people than ever before are eating farmed fish, and more countries around the world are turning to fish farms as a key source of sustainable protein, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The latest FAO biannual report on the state of the world’s fisheries said fish farming is the fastest growing agricultural sector for the past 40 years and is largely responsible for making more fish available.

The FAO has projected that aquaculture will account for two-thirds of the global food fish consumption by 2030.

Manuel Barange, director of the FAO fisheries and aquaculture department, has said, “proper regulation, legislation and monitoring and control” are needed to address concerns by critics.

In Canada, salmon farmers are pushing for a Federal Aquaculture Act saying it is needed to address many of the issues raised about their industry.

“A Federal Aquaculture Act can address many of the issues raised…and clarify roles and responsibilities of federal regulators, critical for protecting the environment and growing sustainably,” says Timothy Kennedy, Executive Director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.

A recent Canadian government report highlighted aquaculture as one of the four priorities requiring immediate action citing the potential for the sector to nearly double production from 200,565 tonnes in 2016 to 381,900 tonnes in 2028 to meet rising demand.

Canada is the fourth largest producer of farmed salmon after Norway, Chile, and the United Kingdom. The Canadian salmon farming industry is considered to have significant potential for growth due to Canada’s long coastline, cold water temperatures, and proximity to the United States market.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, Canadian seafood farmers produced $1.35 billions of fresh, nutritious seafood in 2016. Canadian fish farming and processing activities generated over $5 billion in economic activity, $2 billion in GDP, and more than 25,000 full-time jobs for Canadians earning an estimated $1.16 billion in wages in 2016, with significant Indigenous participation across the nation.

Over 40 First Nation and Indigenous communities are now directly or indirectly involved in farming seafood in Canada.

If Canada wants to be world leader in sustainable aquaculture, perhaps it can draw some lessons from what some other countries are doing;


Norway plans to further develop the aquaculture industry to churn its economy, sustain the environment and feed the world, the country’s prime minister Erna Solberg has said. Norway has also put into action a High-level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The 2.6 million tons of seafood exported from Norway in 2017 is equivalent of 36 million meals every day, year round. The country seafood worth 94.5 billion Norwegian kroner (11.7 billion U.S. dollars) in 2017, a record high both in value and volume, the Norwegian Seafood Council said. Salmon is the most important species for Norwegian seafood exports, with over 68 percent of the total export value and 38 percent of the volume, according to the council.


A new “roadmap” has been launched in a bid to double the size of Scotland’s aquaculture sector within 15 years. Businesses and organisations involved in the sector are seeking to boost the value of Scottish aquaculture from £1.8bn this year to £3.6bn by 2030. They estimate this will generate more than 9,000 new jobs for the industry. A working group has launched a new growth strategy, which identifies key actions that are required to achieve the goals.

According to Scottish government figures, 8,800 jobs are currently supported by the aquaculture sector in Scotland. The new strategy estimates that number could rise to 18,000 by 2030. The Scottish government is to work in tandem with the country’s fish farmers to address health challenges and help the industry grow sustainably with a 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework, that aims to not only enable growth but also minimize impacts on the environment.


Japan’s Cabinet has agreed on a bill that will allow more companies to enter the fish farming business. This is the first time in about 70 years that Japan’s fisheries system has been reviewed. The government aims to promote growth in the country’s sluggish fishing industry by ending a system that gave preference to local cooperatives for aquaculture along the coast.

Japan’s fish hauls totalled a record low of 4.3 million metric tons in 2017, sinking 1.3% from the previous year, according to a government survey released by the agriculture ministry. The government regards aquaculture as a key to attracting newcomers to the fishing industry. The agency aims to promote investment and the use of cutting-edge technologies in the aqua-farming sector.


Russia’s largest salmon producer, Russian Aquaculture, has announced plans for a massive expansion of its business by 2025. As part of these plans, the company aims to increase production to at least 30,000 tonnes of salmon over the next seven years – compared to about 6,000 tonnes in 2017 – to become one of the world’s top salmon producers. The company now has the rights to operate 14 sites around Murmansk with a total capacity of 23,000 tonnes of fish per year. However, as part of their plans they aim to increase this number tally to 16.

Earlier this year, the Russian government unveiled plans to foster the development of the aquaculture industry in Karelia by establishing an aquaculture cluster. The state-run Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo) was tasked with performing a feasibility study to build a new fish breeding centre and a fish feed mill in the region. Under the plan, the region’s annual fish harvest is to reach more than 35,000 tonnes by 2020. The planned investments are part of the government’s scheme to decrease the country’s dependency on fish imports.


Greece has approved of 112 investment plans for aquaculture units around the country, with 60 different companies included, of which the “lion’s share” is held by the Andromeda group, which also controls the Nireus and Selonda producers. The latter trio of brands account for 47 investment plans, budgeted at 44.3 million euros, of which 13.7 million euros are state subsidies within the Operational Programme “Fisheries and Sea 2014-2020”. The Mediterranean is the world’s most overfished sea, with some 62.2% of fish stocks depleting fast, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Today more than 69 percent of all Greek fisheries production comes from aquaculture and accounts for 11 percent of total Greek agricultural exports. Of the 1,045 aquaculture facilities in Greece, 36 percent are marine fish-farm sites. The main species farmed are sea bass and sea bream, particularly in offshore conditions, and mussels, according to Seafood Source.


The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently approved the creation of a special Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF). The multi-billion-dollar fund aims to help the creation of fisheries infrastructure facilities to boost fish production and help achieve the target of producing 15 million tonnes of fish by 2020, which was set under the Blue Revolution.

It will also support the government’s aim to achieve sustainable growth of 8 -9 per cent and thereafter take the fish production to the level of about 20 million tonnes by 2022-23. The fund will also boost employment opportunities for over 950,000 fishermen and other entrepreneurs in fishing and allied activities. The fund will encourage the adoption of new technologies in the fisheries sector. India’s fish production is estimated at around 12 million tonnes annually.


China sees Southeast Asia and Africa as part of its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) seafood initiative, with support in seawater cage aquaculture systems producing species like yellow croaker, grouper, cobia, and silver pomfret. Chinese companies have invested USD 180 billion (EUR 155 million) in overseas agriculture and fisheries across 140 countries up to 2016, according to Gu Wei Bing, a senior agriculture ministry official. China has a target of increasing its aquaculture production by 15.4 million metric tons by 2025. China is also building a $2 billion fish farm in French Polynesia – its second-largest investment in the Pacific while providing Norway with giant-aquaculture infrastructure for fish farming.


Arctic Sea Farms, one of the largest aquaculture companies in Iceland, has confirmed plans for a significant expansion of its operations. Iceland’s largest salmon producer, Arnalax, also recently voiced ambitions to grow the industry substantially – from its current level of 15,000 tonnes a year to 50,000 tonnes within five years. All Icelandic sea farms are obliged to deposit into a special aquaculture environmental fund. The objective of the fund is to promote research concerning the sea farming areas and the main beneficiaries of the fund has been The Marine Research Institute of Iceland.  Iceland is now committed to expanding its still relatively young aquaculture industry. A number of other companies have growth plans in the pipeline. The main argument in the country is by how much, and where, the new farms should be located.


America’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) is setting a goal to expand marine aquaculture production in the US by at least 50 per cent by the year 2020. The organization recently released its Marine Aquaculture Strategic Plan, which is focusing on the goals of regulatory efficiency, improving tools and technology and keeping the public informed.

Currently, the US imports over 90 per cent of its seafood, about half of which is farmed. Aquaculture production employs about 40,000 people in the US.  U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, has introduced a bill that would streamline the permitting process for aquaculture farms in American waters. The bill is similar to calls in Canada for a Federal Aquaculture Act that will provide a modern legal framework for managing the aquaculture sector.



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