By: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor
If you have ever been to a supermarket, chances are you have come across packaged salmon with the words “Farmed Atlantic Salmon” on it. Salmon farming, while quite common on the BC coast, has been at the centre of intense debate due to its ecological impact. Third-year SFU biological sciences student and sustainability peer educator Kris Cu is putting together an audio documentary on the issue to help locales get a sense of the problem.
The audio documentary is being produced by Cu in partnership with Embark Sustainability and CJSF. The estimated completion date for the project will be mid-May, and it will be featured on the website for the project, Plight of the Coast.
Cu was inspired to raise awareness about the issue because BC will be deciding in mid-June whether or not the government will renew the tenure for 22 fish farms. He hopes to spread awareness and mobilize public support against open-net cages before the decision is made.
“The wild salmon are integral to this coast in so many ways and their disappearance will have profound impacts to this province. Given the opportunity to make a difference with Embark and knowing what it’s like to grow up without nature, I knew I had to contribute to the cause,” said Cu.
Cu explained that while the ill effects of salmon farming are clear and present in BC, there is a lack of popular awareness about it.
What is salmon farming?
Salmon farming is a type of aquaculture where salmons are grown in open-net cages along the coast with no barrier between the farm and its natural surroundings. There are around 137 salmon farm tenures in BC. with roughly 85 farms are active at once. Each farm can house up to 750,000 fish on an area equivalent to four football fields.
Despite their fairly innocuous appearance, these farms have adversely affected the health of wild salmon, as well as the surrounding environments. “Due to the high density of fish packed in together, the cages become hotspots for diseases,” explained Cu.
Why is it harmful?
The debate surrounding salmon farming is chiefly between the farming industry and environmental conservationists. Science-based charity Watershed Watch, which advocates for the conservation of BC’s wild salmon, relies on peer-reviewed and published scientific work to critique open-net farming. They mention disease transfer between farmed and wild salmon due to the lack of any barrier between the open-net cage and natural surroundings as a major threat.
Research has indicated that wild salmon have a higher chance of being infected with piscine reovirus (PRV) when exposed to open-net salmon farms. Other negative impacts of salmon farms come from the increased spread of sea lice to surrounding waters, competition with wild fish from escaped farmed fish, and water pollution from the farms.
What is the way out?
Watershed Watch advocates transitioning from open-net cages to closed containment systems. These systems would address the problems of boundary-free interaction between the farm and its natural surroundings, thus providing a straightforward solution to many of the current problems of salmon farming. Closed containment systems are sustainable and can be land-based.
According to Cu, “one of the main reasons that the industry does not want to make the transition is because of the high cost. It is not like they did not know about its ill-effects.
“The Namgis people have shown the industry that land-based salmon farming can be done sustainably if you have the initiative to do it,” he said, referencing the Namgis First Nations who have already successfully implemented this process.
For individual consumers who want to help address the issue, Cu recommended conscientiously buying wild salmon or sustainably grown salmon. Conservationist efforts, such as one led by First Nations band government Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, seek to mobilize locals and, in turn, local governments to push the federal government towards making environmentally sound choices. Individuals can provide support by working with and supporting these groups to bring about change.
“This story is very similar to that of Kinder Morgan pipeline [sic], where a foreign industry is trying to violate indigenous and environmental rights for their own profit, except it isn’t that evident,” said Cu.
With files from CBC News.