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Why I support responsible fish farming in Canada

‘The Election campaign promise to end ocean-based aquaculture is deeply concerning because it is harmful. It sets the seafood industry back and, ultimately, it could harm wild salmon.’

By Chef Ned Bell

My name is Ned Bell, and I support responsible fish farming.

As a father, a chef, an advocate and an educator who has done his research I have come to support Canada’s fish farmers. I also support fishermen and women and responsible wild capture fisheries. I support the coastal and rural communities that rely on these marine industries and provide us this important food. Most of all I support Mother Nature.

Publicly supporting salmon farming can be controversial. But, with broad knowledge gained from studying all sides of the issue, I am sure in my decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with Canadian fishermen and fish farmers, showing support every step of the way.

Years ago, I wasn’t sure about aquaculture, so I set out to educate myself. My clear understanding comes from dozens of visits to ocean and land-based fish farms around the world that are growing the species we eat by the millions every year in our collective homes and restaurants.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours on salmon, shrimp, sablefish, sturgeon, trout, arctic char, halibut and tilapia farms. I’ve toured their hatcheries and feed facilities, and met with the farmers, scientists, academic experts, government officials and non-profit organizations involved. I have listened intently and asked many questions.

Through that research, I have come to trust the ocean farmers in Canada. Behind the farmers, I trust the regulations and the provincial and federal Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as the public service in these ministries. And I believe that through collaboration, public accountability and continued investments in technology and science, we will continue to improve as stewards of our ecosystems and communities. We want to grow high quality, healthy protein without harming Mother Nature, and we are capable of doing just that. In many places, we already are.

Issues will always come up when farming animals. I have found Canada’s aquaculture industry to be forthright, forward-thinking and willing to relentlessly solve issues.

I have also become convinced that the only way we will sustainably enjoy eating healthy fish into the future is through both farming and wild fisheries, done responsibly.

Overfishing, climate change, drastic habitat degradation, urban pollution and over-exploited resources are harming healthy and resilient marine ecosystems, putting huge pressure on wild fish populations here and around the world. Wild fisheries need public support, effective regulation, transparency and consistent management. Wild fisheries also need refuge from their biggest threat: rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  Lastly wild fisheries need consumers willing to pay a fair price for a variety of different locally caught fish.

Fish farming can help with that, by providing responsibly-raised fish we can eat along with selectively-caught local wild seafood, thus reducing pressure from over-fishing.

Last year, half of globally consumed seafood came from aquaculture. In 10 years that number will climb to upwards of 65 per cent. In Canada, we grow a lot of fish and seafood in farms, in water and on land. It is imperative that all stakeholders work together to succeed. Fish farmers and fishermen must thrive equally to ensure the future of their families, their coastal communities, and the future of fish and seafood.

Unfortunately, here on the west coast boom and bust wild salmon returns, historic conflicts and campaigns of misinformation have led many to increasing polarisation and standoffs rather than dialogue to learn the full and current picture, including its bright spots.

It’s just not that simple. In an era of intertwined crises in climate, food production, population growth, and human and planetary health the conversation about aquaculture and wild fisheries isn’t black and white. It’s extremely nuanced. We need to get beyond the “us-versus-them” situation and understand we share the same communities and, really, all of us are part of the problem and therefore potential problem-solvers.

To have a useful opinion and make good choices, one must strive to be as informed as possible. There are organizations out there to help with that. As a chef, I rely on a number of what I call Ocean Guardians to help inform my choices around responsible fish and seafood.

Seafood Watch, Ocean Wise and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) focus on chains of custody, data tracking and traceability. BC salmon farmers are the world leader in Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certifications, which ensure not only sustainability standards but also a company’s responsibility towards their employees and the communities and in which they farm.

These organizations are committed to telling us which seafood we can responsibly consume, and which we should pass by. BC’s salmon farmers are certified as sustainably providers – hard-won designations.

The latest 2019 Election campaign promise to end ocean-based aquaculture is deeply concerning because it is harmful. It sets the seafood industry back and, ultimately, it could harm wild salmon.

There are always challenges raising animals for consumption, but I know the large majority of our Canadian fish farmers are doing everything they can to find solutions to their specific unique set of challenges.  Thanks to heavy investment of time, research and resources, fish farming has evolved and come long way in the last decade. Aquaculture in Canada is an extremely progressive, science-based, technology-focused industry.  Aquaculture professionals are environmental stewards because they are extremely conscious farmers committed to ensuring that wild stocks are not harmed.

Rather than ill-informed political promises we need real solutions.

We need to eat more nutrient dense plant-based foods, with clean healthy protein as the garnish. Fish is ideal for that, as long as it is sustainably caught or raised, and as local as possible.

Wild fish and aquaculture are among humanity’s best opportunities to serve the world’s growing population a highly nutritious food with a low ecological impact.

Eating more seafood makes sense because increased seafood consumption equals better health.

Wild fish must not be pushed to the brink of extinction in Canada – or globally – in this century. I believe in Mother Nature, I believe we can regenerate, but it is simply not our right to take it all. Responsible Canadian fish farming is part of the solution.

Ned Bell is a chef advocate, keynote speaker, educator and founder of Chefs for Oceans. Bell’s interests and talents have led him to his current roles as Ocean Wise Executive Chef, Culinary Director of The Vancouver Club, Chef Ambassador for International Year of the Salmon and author of best seller – Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast.