Source: Vancouver Sun – September 28, 2017 | Last Updated: September 28, 2017 8:34 AM PDT
The value of B.C. farmed fish rose 37 per cent between 2013 and 2016, according to a report commissioned by the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.
Under pressure from activists and First Nations who question the industry’s impact on the environment and wild salmon, salmon farmers have increased production by only 12 per cent since 2010.
The biggest gains have been made in the market value of B.C. Atlantic salmon, said association executive-director Jeremy Dunn.
“Demand in Canada and the United States has been high and demand in Asia has grown exponentially over the last couple of years,” he said. “Globally, demand for salmon has increased while supply has been curtailed.”
The wholesale value of B.C. farmed salmon rose to $796 million in 2016, creating 2,966 direct jobs and 2,716 indirect jobs, according to the report prepared by accountants MNP LLP.
Atlantic salmon represents 90 per cent of the province’s total aquaculture production, according to the ministry of agriculture, and remains B.C.’s largest agricultural export at about $550 million a year.
The industry remains in an uncomfortable spotlight as activists concerned about the potential for farms to be vectors of disease for Pacific salmon species call for the removal of ocean-based salmon farms. First Nations have occupied and monitored Marine Harvest fish farms at Swanson Island and Midsummer Island for more than a month.
“I’ve been here 35 days and I’m not going anywhere,” said Ernest Alfred of the Namgis First Nation. “The pressure is on (Marine Harvest) and the government to do something about this.”
Alfred intends to press Agriculture Minister Lana Popham to revoke the licenses of ocean-based farms in Firsts Nations traditional territory in the Broughton Archipelago. The substantial tax revenue generated by the industry — $86 million a year — may complicate that conversation.
Popham expects to receive a report soon from the ministry’s advisory council on finfish aquaculture with recommendations on how to manage the industry.
“We will be working closely with the industry, First Nations and the public to ensure B.C.’s aquaculture industry is environmentally sustainable and respects First Nations rights while supporting good jobs for British Columbians,” said Popham in a statement.
The government’s three-pronged Grow B.C., Feed B.C., Buy B.C. plan is designed to create opportunities for a seafood industry that provides jobs, revenue and opportunity B.C. communities, she said.
Meanwhile, First Nations and activists with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have released videos taken at fish farm sites, alleging evidence of disease.
“The (higher) prices farmers are getting are the result of the lack of wild fish in the market,” said Alfred. “When there’s no wild fish to buy, they can sell more farmed fish.”
Higher prices for their product have allowed salmon farms to upgrade their equipment, hatcheries and implement better practices in pursuit of Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification, said Dunn.
Only a handful of the province’s 117 licensed fish farms are inactive, mainly farms that are struggling to meet the environmental standard required by the council, he said. Some poor performing farms have been moved to new locations.
“Our members are maximizing production at the top-performing sites, which is good for the environment, the fish and the business,” he said. “Improving practices mean better overall survival of fish through to market.”