BC at the crossroads


The news in October that Joyce Murray had been appointed as Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the National Coastguard was greeted with warm words from the country’s fish farming industry.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance issued a diplomatically worded statement congratulating Murray on her appointment.

It said: “Our members would like to welcome the Honourable Joyce Murray as the new Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, and express their enthusiasm to work together to realise the opportunities for Canada through sector development.

“According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the global and domestic demand for seafood continues to increase 7% to 10% a year. The new government has committed to ensuring that Canada is positioned to succeed in the fast-growing global sector of the blue economy.”

Grieg Seafood also warmly welcomed Murray. Grieg Seafood BC (British Columbia) Managing Director Rocky Boschman said: “On behalf of myself and Grieg Seafood, I would like to extend a warm welcome to Minister Murray and her team. We look forward to reaching out to both her and her staff in the coming weeks to extend these sentiments directly, as well as extend an invitation to come and view our operations and learn more about Grieg, our employees and our fish, as well as our commitment to continuous improvement, innovation and the adaption of technology into our operations.”

The coming year may see relations turn frostier, however. Murray was appointed as the successor Bernadette Jordan, who failed to win re-election last year despite her party, the Liberals, returning to power. Like Jordan, Murray has a reputation for being critical of aquaculture’s environmental impact and she has inherited a crucially important court case over the industry’s future.

In December 2020, Jordan effectively ordered an end to net-pen fish farming activity in the Discovery Islands region of British Columbia by June 2022.

The Government even put a stop on the movement of juvenile salmon to British Columbia, which angered companies such as Mowi, which warned that up to three million fish would have to be culled and many jobs lost as result.

Cermaq also condemned the decision, accusing Jordan of a lack of understanding about fish farming.

All four companies affected by the Government’s decision launched an appeal in the Federal Court, Ottawa. Their case is based on the claim that the orders lacked fairness, were totally irrational and driven by political consideration rather than led by scientific evidence.

Mowi Canada told the court that the minister’s decision was made without any consultation, saying it threatened its operations in British Columbia. Grieg and Cermaq have also asked the court to intervene in Jordan’s decisions.

Following hearings last autumn, a ruling from the Federal Court is expected in the first half of this year.

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association told Fish Farmer that the industry requires certainty about its future in order to invest in better technology and improved fish welfare: “In terms of the future of salmon farming technology, we follow science and research for the best direction in technological advancements and want to pursue the technology with the lowest carbon footprint and environmental impact, with the best fish welfare practices. Continued research and development is ongoing and new technology is being trialled. However, a secure future is needed in order to gain the investment needed to continue with this effort.”

Canada’s Federal Court, Ottawa

Jordan had cited opposition to salmon farms on the part of First Nations representatives as a key reason for the Discovery Islands farming ban. In practice, however, the issue of salmon farming has divided the region’s indigenous communities.

For example, in June 2021, the Tlowitsis Nation and Grieg Seafood BC together submitted an application to the regulators for an additional salmon farm in the Tlowitsis Nation’s traditional territory of Clio Channel.

The two partners also recently entered into a net-washing agreement while supporting Grieg Seafood’s need for local service providers and more workers.

Tlowitsis Chief John Smith said: “We have built a solid relationship with Grieg Seafood over more than 10 years of many meetings, visiting their farms and travelling to Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria to speak to regulators about our views of aquaculture.

“Our Guardians are on the water monitoring the farm activities as well as our members employed by Grieg. We have taken a lot of time to learn about the industry and our partner before we decided to become involved more directly, and for us adding more farms in our territory is the clear way forward. Our net-wash service company will also benefit from additional work for our members at a new farm.”

Some of the neighbouring First Nations are less happy, however. Independent news website The Narwhal reported that hereditary chiefs from several Kwakwaka’wakw Nations are sending a letter to Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, stating that the application for a salmon farm near Knight Inlet — between the Broughton Archipelago and the Discovery Islands where fish farms are being removed — infringes on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Aboriginal Rights and Title.

“We are vehemently opposed to any fish farms within Kwakwaka’wakw territorial waters, and they are contrary to our way of life, culture and potlatch laws,” the letter says. “As hereditary chiefs of our nations, we vow to protect our food and sacred Awinakola [which means ‘We are one with the land and sea’], the land, sea and air we own. As keepers and stewards of the land, we find this application outside your nation’s jurisdiction.”

Meanwhile, Walmart Canada has become the first large retailer to market salmon produce from the First Nation people of the Kitasoo and Xai’xais, British Columbia.

“Klemtu Spirit Hot Smoked Atlantic Salmon” has been created in partnership with Mowi Canada West and packaged by the First Nation group in Klemtu, BC.

They were directly involved in approving the locally inspired name and artwork for this new product. Klemtu Spirit is the culmination of a 30-year partnership between the Kitasoo-Xai’xais First Nation and Mowi.

Fish farming and processing is the main source of employment in Klemtu, generating more than 50 jobs for the small, remote community on the central coast of British Columbia.

Currently, Mowi Canada West’s (MCW) has formal agreements with 15 Nations and eight First Nation-owned businesses, and a significant part of Mowi’s workforce is Indigenous.

Mowi told Fish Farmer: “MCW recognises the indigenous right to self-determination and the rights of Nations to make decisions on matters that impact their territories. Agreements between company and Nation are built around shared values, and also developed to address specific interests and expertise that each party offers. Collaborative business activities have grown over two decades of working together, and have included fish hauling, harvesting, processing, net cleaning, scuba diving, crew boat services, fish processing and smoking, and environmental monitoring.

“MCW is committed to reconciliation and this includes enhanced communication and information sharing, capacity building within Nations to support evidence-based decision-making, equitable economic opportunities and establishing a framework for long-term relationships.”

Consumer confusion

Most Canadians love their salmon, but millions are badly misinformed and confused about current production methods, a report published towards the end of 2021 suggests.

Researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia have carried out a detailed nationwide study on thousands of consumers because they wanted to get a better sense of how much they knew about the various methods used to cultivate the fish and their buying habits.

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Caddle, polled 10,000 Canadians in June 2021 to better understand how people perceive salmon production methods, how often they eat the fish and if they preferred certain species.

The level of consumption suggests a majority of the population may not agree with the legislators that salmon farming needs to be curtailed. The researchers found that a total of 79% of the population do eat salmon, with 10% of those eating it weekly.

More than half of those polled believe that aquaculture is a sustainable way to harvest salmon.

When assessing people’s perception related to salmon and the two main fish farming production methods – ocean-based pens and land-based farms – Canadians appear to support ocean farm production.

Nonetheless, the results suggest that 50% of respondents misunderstand the differences between land-based and ocean farming.

Dr Stefanie Colombo, lead researcher for the project and Canada Research Chair in Aquaculture Nutrition at Dalhousie, says the survey results reveal how confused and misinformed Canadians are about salmon production and how important science-based data is in shaping public opinion.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion around how salmon are raised in ocean farms, but it appears Canadians see them as a very sustainable method of production, in addition to land-based production,” says Dr Colombo.

She argues in the report: “The future exclusion of ocean net-pen farming eliminates the opportunity for sustainable use of our coastline in appropriate areas for food production. Both production models will continue to improve and evolve to produce sustainable, nutritious salmon for all Canadians.”

A total of 21% of Canadians prefer salmon raised on a land-based farm and 39% prefer ocean-farmed salmon.

About 44% of Canadians say they eat salmon at home, with 8% preferring to order it at a restaurant.

Among those who do not eat salmon, 42% cited taste as the reason, while 30% said they do not eat any kind of fish.

When it came to production methods, 49% of Canadians say they prefer wild salmon, while 42% had no preference.

About 29% believe wild salmon to be more nutritious, even though recent research suggests otherwise, says the university.

Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie, warns in the study: “If we motivate the industry to produce more salmon using land-based farms, we could potentially make salmon less affordable in the immediate future for a growing number of Canadians.”

Spotlight on fish welfare

Meanwhile, Canada has drawn up its first national code of practice for the care and safe handling of salmonids  – which mainly comprises salmon and trout species.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, which initiated the project three years ago, and the National Farm Animal Care Council have worked together on the project which they say will greatly improve sustainability and fish welfare.

Dr Barry Milligan, a veterinarian who has held senior roles in both salmonid production and fish health, said: “Our industry’s participation in the code development process demonstrates our producers’ commitment to animal health and welfare, and dedication to responsible fish husbandry.

The code includes several issues including water quality, stocking density, fish handling, health and monitoring, slaughter and lighting, and feed withdrawal and sea lice.

Codes of practice in Canada are regarded as a powerful tool for meeting rising consumer expectations and for ensuring that animal welfare is regarded as a priority in farming.

Helping with the work to produce the code was a committee that included animal science and veterinary expertise in fish behaviour, health and welfare.

Leigh Gaffney, who represents World Animal Protection Canada on the Code Committee, said: “I commend the aquaculture sector for initiating the development of this code. A significant milestone has been achieved in releasing Canada’s first Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids. This code reflects the hard but very important conversations we had on how to bring meaningful improvements to the welfare of farmed salmonids in Canada.”

Fish farmer Arlen Taylor, who owns five rainbow trout hatcheries in Toronto and who sits on the code development committee, said: “We are very proud to be releasing the first Code of Practice for farmed salmonids in Canada. This code is a valuable resource for large and small farms alike. It will allow us all to improve our practices while continuing to innovate for the future betterment of animal care.”

Trident cage system, British Columbia


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