Dr. Patrick Moore, Chairman & Chief Scientist
Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.
The Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture
Saturna Island Room, Fairmont Hotel Vancouver,
900 West Georgia St., Vancouver, BC
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Since its beginnings in the 1980s, salmon farming has been under a relentless attack in British Columbia, and to a lesser extent in other parts of the world. The opposition comes from a coalition of commercial wild salmon interests, environmental groups, the political left, boaters, and tourism operators. Let’s look at the laundry list of claims activists are making daily against what I believe is one of the cleanest industries on the planet, producing the healthiest food in the world.
“Salmon farms are polluting the ocean with fish waste”
Activists compare salmon farms to “cities of 500,000 people dumping their raw sewage” into the environment. The primary reason for concern about untreated human waste is disease transfer, not the waste itself. For centuries before sewage was treated, diseases like cholera and tetanus were transmitted by water that was contaminated with human waste. Once human waste is treated and sterilized it is a perfectly good fertilizer, and fish waste is no different except that there are no diseases that can be transmitted from fish to people. Fish waste consists of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, potassium, nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium, iron, zinc, and the other nutrients essential for life.
It is possible to have too much of a good thing. If a fish farm is situated in shallow water where there is no tidal flushing and the farm is heavily stocked it can cause the form of pollution know as eutrophication, or simply too many nutrients. Excess nutrients cause excess plankton (algae) growth, depleting the water of oxygen when the plankton die, causing fish kills and reduced productivity. One of the best features of fish farms is that they are self-regulating for this concern. If a salmon farmer pollutes the water at the farm site, it is the fish in the pens that will suffer the most harm. Fish living outside the pens can swim away but the farm fish must live or die in an enclosed area. They are somewhat like the proverbial canary in a coalmine in that they would suffer first, the farmer would go broke, and the pollution would end.
If a farm is properly located where there are strong tidal currents, the nutrients are dispersed widely and actually increase the productivity of the area. It is no secret that prawn and crab fishermen often set their traps close to fish farms due to the abundance of marine life in their vicinity. What would I do with a wheelbarrow full of fish waste? I’d spread it on my vegetable and flower gardens; knowing it would make them grow faster and produce more food and blooms. In this case the activists are employing the propaganda of using negative and foul-smelling words like sewage and waste, as if fish waste is some kind of toxic chemical when it is actually beneficial. In the great food chains of life, one species’ waste is another species’ food.
“Farmed salmon may escape and pollute the wild salmon and even take over from the wild fish”
The concern is that if a farmed fish escapes and mates with a wild fish the offspring will be inferior and will not be able to compete in the wild. Then there is another concern that if a farmed fish escapes it will overpower the wild fish and displace it, thus creating an inferior stock of fish. They can’t have it both ways, however. Either the farmed salmon are inferior and won’t be able to compete, or they’re superior and will out-compete. In fact the critics are wrong on both counts because in the wild the rule is the survival of the fittest. If the escaped farm fish really were more fit, then it would deserve to survive. King and silver salmon from the north Pacific have adjusted to the Great Lakes and thrive there. Rainbow trout from the Pacific Northwest – British Columbia in particular – are now well established in lakes and rivers around the world. People are generally happy with this because they like to catch and eat the salmon and trout.
Most of the farmed salmon grown in British Columbia and Washington State are Atlantic salmon. It isn’t possible for them to breed with Pacific salmon so there is no genetic concern like there is in Norway and Scotland where farmed Atlantic escapees could breed with their wild cousins. But activists fear that Atlantic salmon might become established in the Pacific and displace the native species. After 15 years during which time thousands of Atlantic salmon have escaped there is no evidence that they have become permanently established. This is likely to remain the case as there have been many attempts around the world to establish Atlantic salmon outside their natural range and all have failed. It would appear that Atlantic salmon are difficult, if not impossible, to transplant.
Nevertheless, salmon farming in BC has made huge changes over the last two decades as salmon farmers have steadily increased their investments in state-of-the-art netcages and equipment. As a result, farm operators have been able to reduce escapes by a wide margin.
Even if Atlantic salmon did become established would it be such a bad thing? There are already eight species of salmonids in Pacific Northwest rivers and they don’t “displace” each other. Maybe a ninth species would simply add to biodiversity. The oyster farming industry in the Pacific Northwest is based upon the cultivation of Japanese oysters in the ocean. In some warmer inlets they have become established as self-perpetuating populations. In other words, they have become naturalized and it seems to me that this is a pretty natural state of affairs. There is no evidence that the Japanese oysters are displacing native species of shellfish.
In Norway and Scotland activists charge that escaped Atlantic salmon will wipe out the wild stocks. They neglect to mention that the reason salmon farming was invented in Norway was because the wild salmon had been so badly overfished there weren’t enough to satisfy the demand. If anything, the salmon farms allow some of the fishing pressure to be taken off the wild stocks so that they might rebuild. In a recent agreement Greenland has stopped commercial fishing for Atlantic salmon with financial support from Denmark and the US. Hopefully this will increase ocean survival so that more fish will return to spawn in their native rivers in Europe and the Atlantic coast of North America.
“Salmon are fed large amounts of antibiotics that spread into the sea”
During the early years of salmon farming it was common to medicate the fish fairly regularly to control a number of diseases to which they were susceptible. Today, antibiotics are used very seldom because vaccines have been developed for most diseases. When compared to chicken and hog farming, there is no comparison. Whereas these livestock are on low-dose antibiotics for more than 50% of their lives, only 3% of salmon feed is medicated. Many salmon farms are now completely antibiotic-free and some are able to qualify for “organic” status.
It is truly amazing that activists can put such a negative spin on the use of modern medicine in animal husbandry. It is perfectly reasonable for veterinarians to prescribe medication for diseased livestock, and reasonable to use low-dose antibiotic feed to promote rapid and healthy animal growth. These practices are partly why our agriculture is so productive today. Sure it would be nice if there were no diseases in this world, but such a world is a fantasy that is unlikely ever to be real.
“Salmon farms spread disease to wild fish”
The anti-fish-farm set give people the impression that salmon farms are somehow manufacturing diseases and then spreading them to wild fish. In fact the reverse is true. All the diseases that farm fish get are from the wild. Farm fish go into the ocean disease-free and sometimes contract the diseases that are natural in the waters around them. If the disease outbreak is severe, they can be treated and cured, unlike wild fish that get disease and transfer it to both other wild fish and to farm fish.
“Salmon farms are spreading sea lice to wild fish, causing their populations to plummet”
This is the claim that anti-salmon activists are pursuing most aggressively today. It is a completely trumped-up fabrication but that doesn’t stop them from repeating it so often that the media, and thence the public, believe it.
The story goes like this: Sea lice, which are slightly parasitic relatives o f shrimp and crabs, attach themselves to farmed salmon and breed on them so prolifically that they become a reservoir for infecting wild fish swimming by. Lice from salmon farms attack pink salmon, in particular, which have a very small juvenile stage, when they come out of the rivers and go to sea. In 2002 a large run of pink salmon that returns to spawn in rivers near the Broughton Archipelago on British Columbia’s central coast crashed to less than 10% of its previous size. This is blamed on sea lice.
It is a great story for the activists, as it argues that the fish farming industry is a direct threat to the wild salmon populations. Whereas the aquaculture industry argues, correctly in my view, that farming helps take the pressure off wild stocks by providing a farmed product; the activists now have an argument that suggests the opposite is the case. Let’s examine the facts.
There is no direct evidence that lice from salmon farms are harming wild salmon stocks. The crash of 2002 was clearly a natural phenomenon caused by overpopulation in the 2000 and 2001 returning spawners. They simply ate themselves out of house and home and collapsed. This pattern occurs in most populations of wild species; it is a typical boom-and-bust cycle. The activists never mention that the 2000 and 2001 pink salmon populations were the highest recorded since records have been kept. They don’t mention that salmon farms were already established for 15 years before the crash occurred. And they certainly don’t talk about the fact that in a number of years before salmon farms existed on the coast that the populations were even lower than in the crash year of 2002. And you can be doubly sure that they will never volunteer the fact that in 2003, 2004, and 2005 the population has rebounded, quickly coming back to a level that is higher than the 50-year average for the region. Meanwhile the activists continue to claim that sea lice from salmon farms are “threatening wild pink salmon with extinction.”
The media has been particularly irresponsible in its reports on this subject. It seems quite obvious that they enjoy helping to create the myth, rarely if ever presenting the facts listed above. I have been around controversial environmental issues a long time so I know you can’t always blame the media. In this case, however, I believe it is justified.
There can be no doubt that salmon farms, sea lice, and wild salmon all exist in the ocean. Sea lice do attach themselves to farmed salmon, and a percentage of wild pink salmon fry do have sea lice on them as they pass by salmon farms. So where are the sea lice coming from? It turns out that salmon have been infested with sea lice long before there were any salmon farms. It is now known as a result of government-funded research that sea lice are present in the billions on many other species of fish besides salmon. Sticklebacks, which are abundant near the outlets of the streams from which pink salmon come down, are loaded with lice. They and other wild species are the most likely source of sea lice that attach to the wild salmon. This same research has found no evidence that the lice that are on the wild salmon are causing any damage to the population. Yet hysteria seems to rule the day.
Researchers have now developed a treatment for sea lice on farmed salmon called SLICE. It is a medication that is put in the salmon feed and it kills the lice. Activists are now campaigning against the use of this medicine; even though it has been approved by health and environment authorities in many countries. This is typical; they are against the lice, claiming they will exterminate wild salmon, and then they are against the cure even though there is no evidence of harmful side effects.
“The feed for farmed salmon contains fishmeal and oil from wild fish. This results in a “net loss” of protein for a hungry world because it takes 2-3 pounds of wild fish to make a pound of farmed salmon”
It is true that a portion of the feed for farmed salmon is fishmeal and oil from wild fish. The omega-3 fats in fish oil are essential for good health in salmon and other farmed fish. But it is not true that the use of these products results in a net loss of protein for consumers. When you think about it, why would fish farmers be so stupid as to employ a system that made less food for people? The fact is they don’t; aquaculture produces more food for people or it would not make any sense. A recent independent study done for the European Union Research Director concluded, “Globally the efficiency of consuming fish directly and eating animals fed on fishmeal and fish oil is about equal. Feed conversion figures for salmon suggest that it is more efficient to consume salmon derived from aquaculture than wild caught fish.”
Fishmeal and fish oil are derived from three main sources; the scraps from processing wild and farmed seafood, undesirable fish that are caught incidentally while fishing for other species, and anchovies caught off the coast of Peru. The anti-salmon farm brigade focuses all their attention on the anchovy fishery, a well managed and sustainable harvest that lands five million tons per year, or about 5% of the global wild seafood catch. The gist of the activist criticism is that salmon farmers are taking food from the mouths of poor Peruvians and producing food for affluent consumers in rich countries. And by feeding the fishmeal and oil made from anchovies to salmon there is a net loss of protein as it takes two to three pounds of anchovies to make one pound of salmon. It’s a great story about corporate greed and abuse of poor people but there isn’t a speck of truth to it.
First, not even poor people want to eat a regular diet of anchovies. We do have to take people’s tastes into account. It may well increase the food supply if we all ate algae paste three meals a day but that isn’t likely to become a fad any time soon. Second, anchovies spoil very quickly after they are caught: that is why they are usually canned in oil with a lot of salt. Some people, I included, enjoy the occasional one on a Caesar salad. But the only other way to keep them for a reasonable time is to freeze them. There simply isn’t a market for five million tons of frozen anchovies. That is why they are converted to meal and oil. If people actually wanted to eat them as anchovies there would be a market for them and they would not be rendered down. Food fish always command a higher price than fish that go into rendering plants. I suppose one could argue that the government of Peru should buy all the anchovies and give them, and a deep-freeze, and the power to run it, to the poor. As it is, the export of anchovy meal and oil is one of Peru’s largest income earners. It probably does the people of Peru more good to bring in foreign currency that it would to make the people eat five million tons of anchovies every year. Yet the activists, and even some wooly-headed academics, continue to argue this point.
Whatever your thoughts on developing countries and poor people, it sure doesn’t make sense to blame salmon farmers for keeping Peruvians down on the farm. And only about one-third of the world’s fishmeal and oil is consumed by aquaculture; the majority is fed to chickens and pigs. Why? Because it’s good for their health just like it’s good for our health. As aquaculture grows, it will consume a larger share of these feeds because fish have better conversion rates so fish farmers can afford to outbid land-based farmers. Eventually the limited supply of fishmeal and oil will become a constraint to the growth of aquaculture. That’s why a tremendous amount of research is now focused on partly or completely replacing fishmeal and oil with substitutes such as soybeans and other crops grown in abundance on land. Already a genetically enhanced soybean has been engineered to produce omega-3 oils. This and other innovations will eventually revolutionize the human diet and the diets of our domestic animals, with positive results all around for health and nutrition..
“Salmon are fed artificial chemical dyes to make them look pink like wild salmon”
This is one of the most preposterous allegations, but it is always repeated in the activist rant against aquaculture. Again it is simply the use of propagandist language – turning a good thing into a toxic threat – that gives consumers the impression that farmed salmon is somehow “artificial.”
It is true that naturally occurring chemicals called carotenoids are added to salmon feed and this is what gives the salmon their distinctive colour. They are, in fact, the same carotenoids that make wild salmon pink. They come through the food chain from the plankton that produce them in the first place. These same carotenoids are also what make shrimp and crabs pink and that is why shrimp farmers add them to their feed as well.
It is also a fact that these carotenoids – astaxanthin and canthaxanthin to be exact – are produced synthetically to be used as additives in the feed of fish and poultry (to give the skin and egg yolks a brighter yellow colour) and as colorants in and on a wide variety of foods. These carotenoids are good for human health and are essential nutrients for salmon. They are powerful antioxidants and if you “Google™” them you will see that they are sold as health food supplements and sunless tanning treatments.
Carotenoids are what make carrots orange (and they are good for our eyesight), daffodils yellow, and prepared meats pink rather than gray. Adding them to food for nutritional or aesthetic reasons is perfectly safe, and in many cases, beneficial. It is no different from adding vitamin C to fruit juice as a dietary supplement, and yes, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is also made synthetically and is no different from the “natural” vitamin C produced in citrus fruits. Should products with added vitamin C be labeled” contains the artificial chemical ascorbic acid?”
“Farmed salmon contain high levels of cancer-causing PCBs and dioxins”
Enter the classic food scare world complete with images of pregnant women and babies threatened by toxic chemicals in their cuisine. It is a fundraiser’s delight and millions are spent on orchestrated media campaigns to make sure the scare is spread far and wide. How about some facts?
Yes, farmed salmon contain minute traces, in the parts per billion (equal to one penny out of $10,000,000), of PCBs and dioxins. But so do milk, cheese, butter, beef, chicken, and pork. The levels of these chemicals in all these foods are so far below what is considered a risk to health that it isn’t worth talking about; though it is worth fear-mongering in order to fabricate campaigns, make media headlines and bring in the big grants and donations.
Interestingly, scientists have new evidence that some long-lived chemicals that have been thought to be man-made pollutants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used as flame-retardants in furniture and clothing, actually have significant natural sources. Most of the PBDEs in the blubber of a stranded True’s beaked whale found in Virginia in 2003 were discovered to be of natural origin. The natural sources of the PBDEs found in the whale are still unknown, they only know it isn’t from human activity. Even more important from a health perspective is the fact that these natural chemicals likely explain why whales, humans, and other animals have enzymes that are able to break down PCBs, PBDEs, and other pollutants. That’s why, from a health perspective, the parts per billion of these chemicals in our foods are of no health consequence. If they were, so would be the thousands of other natural toxic chemicals present in tiny amounts in our foods.
This is a story of conspiratorial proportions with politicians, lobbyists, fishermen, charitable foundations, and activist groups all lined up to deliver the knockout punch to salmon farming. Yet farmed salmon sales continue to go up and one must admire the intelligence of the consumer who sees through the hype and buys one of the healthiest foods in the market.
In September 2004 the journal Science carried a report that concluded that farmed salmon had higher levels of PCBs than wild salmon. The activist scientists who did the research were paid by the Pew Charitable Trust, an advocacy group based in Philadelphia with billions in assets – a legacy from the Sun Oil Corporation. Coincidentally the advisory board to Pew included a former governor of Alaska and a representative of the Alaska seafood industry. It just so happens that the main competition for “wild” Alaskan salmon sales in the US is farmed Chilean and British Columbian salmon (we will get to why I put “wild” in quotations in a bit). Other powerful figures to wade into this campaign are Alaskan Governor Frank Murkowski and his daughter, Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski. The Science article made headlines around the word while salmon farmers watched and wept. The whole episode was framed as an issue of a threat to health posed by farmed salmon. The fact that wild salmon was also shown to contain PCBs, although supposedly at lower levels, was not even noticed in the media reports; farmed was toxic and wild was safe.
On September 3, 2003, the “Netscape News,” attributing the New York Times and Reuters, proclaimed that farmed salmon was “contaminated with high levels of cancer-causing chemicals” when PCBs have never been shown to cause cancer in humans even at thousands of times the levels found in salmon and other foods. The story should have read, “contain extremely low levels of chemicals that have never been shown to cause cancer in humans.” But that doesn’t make a very good headline; not like the word “contaminated” which has about as much scientific meaning as “loaded” or “full of it” as in BS.
There were a number of fundamental flaws in the Science article. The wild salmon they selected included species like pink salmon that have much lower fat content than farmed Atlantic salmon. Because PCB and other fat-soluble contaminants concentrate in fat, it is predictable that pink salmon, which are not farmed because they are not as desirable as Atlantic salmon, would have lower PCB content. But they also have lower omega-3 fat content and are therefore not as effective in preventing heart attacks as farmed Atlantic or wild king (Chinook) salmon, both of which have similar high (good) fat content
An even more glaring shortcoming of the Science paper was that it failed to reference two previous studies that provided examples of wild salmon that contained higher PCB levels than farmed salmon. One of these reports analyzed the famed Copper River sockeye salmon from southeast Alaska. It is usually the first fresh wild salmon on the market, appearing in stores in May, so it commands a high price. The report, done by the environmental organization The Circumpolar Conservation Union showed that Copper River sockeye contained about five times the level of PCBs in farmed salmon. Another well-known report demonstrated that wild king and silver (Coho) salmon in Puget Sound, Washington, contained two to three times the levels of PCBs found in farmed salmon. Both these reports were widely circulated among interested parties before the Science article was published yet no mention was made of them. Selective sampling of salmon and selective omission of previous studies equal a biased report.
Nowhere in the science article or in any of the anti-aquaculture literature is there a mention of the fact that the average North American consumer ingests about eight times as much PCBs from beef and about three times as much from milk as they do from eating farmed salmon. Yet all the warnings are about salmon and the facts are ignored.
The fact is there are so many benefits from eating salmon, and so little risk, that it makes sense to eat it regularly. The American Heart Association categorically states that eating oily fish like salmon reduces the risk of a fatal heart attack by 50 percent or 400 out of 100,000. The Environmental Protection Agency, which tends to exaggerate risk by orders of magnitude, estimates that eating farmed salmon more than one a month will result in one additional cancer in 100,000 people in a 70-year life span. I make that 400 to one for a regular feed of salmon, pretty good odds in my book.
And it’s not only the American Heart Association that thinks this way. The World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and the Council on Science and Nutrition all recommend increasing our intake of seafood, particularly oily fish, as a way of improving our health. It is deeply ironic that the activist’s campaign against salmon farming puts people who listen to them at greater risk than if they just ignored the scare tactics and ate more salmon.
“In order to save the wild salmon we should boycott farmed salmon and only eat wild salmon”
Whoever thought up this lunatic idea should get the Nobel Prize for anti-logic. How can you save wild salmon by eating more of them? Yet a whole gaggle of groups has succeeded in convincing activist chefs, restaurant owners, and consumers that a boycott of farmed salmon will somehow be good for wild salmon. Of course, the deadly sea lice fabrication comes in handy here. Get rid of the salmon farms and wild salmon will no longer be decimated by the lice from the farms. As if the fishermen are not “decimating” the wild salmon, oh no, they are just “harvesting” them, a nice term for “killing.”
Every year, tens of millions of wild salmon are killed by commercial, sport, and aboriginal fisheries just as they are about to go up rivers and spawn. This is somehow twisted into being “good” for the wild fish. If you ask me what’s good for the fishery is not necessarily what’s good for the fish. I am not opposed to fishing for wild salmon but there is no doubt that fishermen are impacting their numbers far more than fish farmers.
It is interesting that the anti-aquaculture set has aligned themselves with commercial wild fishing interests. Obviously the wild fishery is against aquaculture; it is a direct competitive threat. It doesn’t cost as much to grow a farmed salmon as it does to catch a wild one, chasing around burning fuel in big boats. Of course this is why people began to farm plants and animals on the land 10,000 years ago; it is more efficient than hunting and gathering.
So why are so-called environmentalists siding with the people who are killing the wild salmon? Partly it is a romantic notion about going back to a time when brave men went to sea and sometimes died trying to earn a living and bring food to hungry villagers. Partly it is an opportunistic move to play upon the public’s notion of this romantic theme. In fact there is nothing romantic about risking your life and maybe capsizing and drowning in an angry sea. Just ask the widows.
Salmon Ranching in Alaska
Let’s look for a moment at the “wild” Alaska salmon fishery, so proud to be wild rather than farmed. The fact is much of the Alaskan salmon fishery is based on what is called “salmon ranching”. Every year eggs are stripped from returning adult females, fertilized with milt (sperm) from returning males, and placed in hatcheries just like the ones salmon farmers use. When the eggs hatch they are ‘ponded” into large tanks where they are fed the same fish feed that farmed salmon get, complete with synthetic canthaxanthin as a nutrient/colorant. When the smolts are ready to go to sea they are transferred to netpens in the ocean, just like farmed salmon, and are fed on a diet containing the same fishmeal and oil that farmed salmon enjoy. If they get sick they are fed the same antibiotics that farmed salmon have the privilege of receiving. Some months later they are released to the open ocean to forage for themselves.
About 1.5 billion salmon are released into the wild each year from these aquaculture facilities in Alaska. After they are released they must compete with the truly wild salmon that have not been artificially spawned, hatched, reared, fed, and medicated. While promoters of Alaskan salmon go on about the amount of wild fish used to feed farmed salmon their own industry is churning out “ranch” salmon that consume about 20 times the wild feed than the entire Canadian salmon farming industry. The Alaskan ranched salmon are competing directly with the wild salmon for their feed in the ocean while the farmed salmon are confined to their pens, feeding on anchovies, soybeans, and wheat germ.
This is the reason I put “wild” in parentheses” earlier on. The practice of salmon ranching is about as wild as the practice of cattle ranching. Who would contend that cattle, reared on the farm and then released to the range, should be classified as “wild” when they are rounded up for slaughter? Yet the activists who decry the salmon farming industry endorse salmon ranching. This is another clue that it has little to do with the environment and everything to do with an unholy alliance between the primary killers of wild salmon and “environmentalists” who are acting as their agents.
Future of Aquaculture
I wouldn’t have spent so much ink on this subject if I didn’t think it was vital to our future health and the health of the world’s oceans. Allow me to spend a little more time providing the positive vision for aquaculture as the negative side already has way too much airtime.
First and foremost, aquaculture is the only feasible way to increase seafood production while at the same time managing the wild fisheries on a sustainable basis. More seafood is good for us; the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the longevity of Japanese people attest to this. And if it is done in an intelligent manner, aquaculture can even help increase the productivity of many wild fisheries.
The Japanese abalone and scallop fisheries are good examples of combining high-tech aquaculture with traditional fishing methods. All around the coast of Japan there are modern solar-powered hatcheries where abalone and scallop are bred and reared, fed on algae grown in large vats, and grown until they are the size of a penny. They are then seeded by the millions into the ocean at appropriate spots where they grow to market size. In the south of Japan where the sea is warm they are harvested by women who dive for them in a traditional costume. In the north where it is too cold for free diving they must be harvested with long poles from small boats, in the same way they have been for centuries.
Another fine example is the abalone aquaculture practiced in Monterey, California. Juvenile abalone are purchased from a commercial hatchery and placed in cages suspended by ropes beneath the fisherman’s pier. The cages are hauled up regularly for cleaning, sorting, and harvesting and then filled with California giant kelp (Macrocystis) harvested from nearby reefs. The kelp provides the staple diet for the abalones, along with algae and other marine species that grow inside the cages. California giant kelp grows very quickly, up to three feet a day, so is easily sustainable in quantities capable of feeding a lot of abalone.
There are now over 100 species of finfish and over 50 species of shellfish being grown in commercial or experimental aquaculture operations around the world. Tilapia, now available in Costco and other large chains along with farmed salmon and prawns, makes a firm white fillet and is growing in production rapidly in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Farmed Atlantic cod is already on the market and other species such as Alaska black cod (sablefish), sturgeon, halibut, and tuna are not far behind.
While fish farm production can still increase considerably in sheltered inshore waters with the available feed supply there are three ways in which production could become much larger.
First, aquaculture operations can move offshore where the pens will be suspended below the surface to avoid the destructive power of storms. A float at the surface will be tethered to a submerged feeding tube that is pulled to the surface by a ship that could service tens of such cages along the continental shelves. The activists are so anti-fish farming that they have set themselves preemptively against open ocean fish farms, where all of the above claimed environmental harms have even less validity. In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed greatly expanding fish farming in the internationally recognized Exclusive Economic Zones that extend 200 miles from each nation’s shoreline. The US wants to create privatized zones and sell multi-year leases to aquaculturists on a percentage of their sales. In these open waters, wastes from the fish are greatly diluted and wash away with the currents. Off-shore fish farms miles from shore have raised halibut, cod, red snapper, and tuna. The response from the environmentalist community has been predictable wailing over the “industrializing” of the seas by greedy big business. Anne Mosness with the anti-biotech, anti-development Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the US’s open ocean proposal is “the equivalent of having a hog farm in a city park flushing its wastes into the street.” Pure nonsense.
Second, if geneticists can enhance land crops like soybeans and corn to contain omega-3 oils and other essential nutrients this will vastly increase the feed supply. It will then make more economic sense to feed these crops to fish rather than to less efficient land animals. Don’t worry; there will still be steaks for the barbecue and bacon for breakfast, but it would be very good for all of us who eat meat if fish consumption went up and red meat went down.
Third, we will learn how to use the waste from fish farms as feed for shellfish grown nearby. The beauty of many shellfish such as oysters, mussels, and clams is they obtain their food directly from plankton in the ocean. Plankton thrive on the nutrients from fish waste. Designed properly, the combination of finfish and shellfish farming could dramatically increase seafood production while simultaneously removing any excess nutrients from the ocean.
Aquaculture and Politics in British Columbia
As you are all well aware, aquaculture has become a vital component of BC’s economy and an economic engine in many coastal and First Nations communities.
Aquaculture is now BC’s largest agricultural export item, contributing over $600 million to the provincial economy and accounting for 4,000 jobs in the province.
At a time when other industries along the coast have declined, aquaculture continues to be the bright light, offering enormous hope and opportunity for coastal British Columbians.
But aquaculture is also under attack. It is being targeted by anti-aquaculture activists like the David Suzuki Foundation who have a clear political agenda and access to millions of dollars in campaign contributions from billion dollar American foundations.
Many environmental campaigns today are simply piggybacking on trade disputes, competition for market share, and anti-globalization agendas.
Salmon farming just happens to be one of the issues in the cross hairs.
In the case of salmon farming, it’s all about US interests – read the Alaskan salmon fishery – versus the growing imports of less expensive, consistently fresher, higher quality, available year-round, high in omega-3 fat content, farmed salmon from Chile and British Columbia.
It really has little to do with the environment and everything to do with raw competition, a good thing when the consumer has the right information. But activist groups, advertising themselves as environmentalists, make sure the public doesn’t have the right information and then raise money on the misinformation they spread.
It is no coincidence that most of the money flowing into British Columbia and Chile to combat salmon farming is from the US. For example, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation of California (based on the Hewlett-Packard fortune), is funding the anti-salmon farming activities of the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver.
Thus local Canadian activist groups are taking money from US based charities and acting as fronts for US commercial interests. It’s a winning formula for all concerned – except of course the hard-working women and men of the salmon-farming industry. Unfortunately the result is a perversion of the market-based economic system; it is pure propaganda. The activists continue to spread misinformation about this sustainable industry and they do so unrelentingly.
Grassroots organizations like Positive Aquaculture Awareness and the First Dollar Alliance and industry groups like the BCSFA are successfully challenging this misinformation and providing the public and decision-makers with the real facts about the industry told from the perspective of both the industry itself and the hard-working, on-the-ground community members that work within it.
But now BC’s sustainable aquaculture sector is also coming under attack from an entirely different source: certain members of the Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture.
This NDP-controlled committee is currently engaged in the worst kind of partisan politics. Aquaculture appears to be the sacrificial lamb in the committee’s attempts to gain political advantage.
Even before your committee began its work, some members were already prejudicing its final conclusions.
NDP MLA and committee member Gary Coons, you suggested the Premier wait for the Pacific Salmon Forum to finish its work before drawing conclusions about salmon farming.
Yet, in the same breath – and before this aquaculture committee had even begun its work – you did not hesitate to attack salmon farming, claiming with absolutely no substantiation that “sea lice, waste and disease… plague farmed fish.”
You advised the Premier to move toward completely impractical, economically unviable and environmentally ludicrous “closed containment” technology.
You were faithfully repeating the misinformation fed to you by anti-aquaculture activists whose true objective is the destruction of BC’s sustainable aquaculture industry and – whether intended or not – severe economic damage to coastal and First Nations communities.
Mr. Coons, you portray your position as a reasonable one of exploring “all the options,” when it is very clear from your public statements that your mind has already been made up.
NDP MLA Robin Austin, Chair of this Committee, you saw fit recently to state in Northern Aquaculture that the MOU signed between Marine Harvest and CAAR was “an admission from the company that it had not been conducting salmon-farming as well as it might have been in the Broughton.”
With all do respect, Mr. Austin, the MOU was nothing of the sort.
These prejudicial comments are coming too fast and too frequently to be seen as anything but a blatant attack on sustainable salmon farming.
In fact, it is now becoming difficult to distinguish the activists’ misinformation from that of this Opposition-led committee.
Most recently, this committee recommended a moratorium of the expansion of salmon farming until such time as it completes its work. Yet again this recommendation was made with absolutely no substantiation or grounding in facts, and before this committee had even drafted its report or completed its research.
As if Opposition-members’ comments weren’t enough, even this committee’s meeting schedule is a source if bias.
Committee Chair Robin Austin, in your press release of May 8th, you said the public consultations would be an excellent opportunity for British Columbians to “share their experiences with us.”
And yet, this committee’s schedule of public consultations offered only a very limited number of interested stakeholders the opportunity to have their voices heard.
This committee’s schedule excluded important aquaculture sector communities such as Gold River.
Aquaculture is the basis for many livelihoods in these communities, yet the people of these communities never had the opportunity to have their voices heard.
In my mind and in the minds of many in BC, this committee has lost credibility, transparency and balance.
In my opinion, if this committee is to be seen as anything more than a partisan machine, it must work immediately to restore its credibility.
Committee members such as Robin Austin and Gary Coons must publicly apologize for their disparaging remarks against sustainable aquaculture.
They must cease from making any further comments that might prejudice the outcome of this committee’s final report and recommendations.
And the committee must immediately engage and consult with those aquaculture communities it has sidelined through its hearings process.
This committee must come to recognize that its recommendations are going to impact on the livelihoods of thousands of hard-working women and men and their families.
Your recommendations must be based on science, not political rhetoric or activist fear-mongering.
Committee recommendations should acknowledge the enormous environmental, social and economic benefits aquaculture has brought to this province and then provide ways of growing the industry for the benefit of all British Columbians.
Don’t get me wrong. Some members of this committee are keeping an open mind, learning the issues, being constructive – unfortunately they are in the minority.
This is what is needed to restore this committee’s credibility and anything less simply will not do.
BC aquaculture’s future is a bright one indeed. In fact, aquaculture the world over is needed now more than ever to help reduce pressure on wild fish.
Aquaculture is the only feasible way to increase seafood production while at the same time managing the wild fisheries on a sustainable basis.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that by 2030 global fish consumption will reach 160 million metric tons. And it recently announced that nearly 50 percent of all finfish are now produced by aquaculture.
But the amount of wild fish available for human consumption on a sustainable basis will be no more than 100 million tonnes.
The future shortfall in supply will have to come from sustainable aquaculture.
As this Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture continues its work, it has the opportunity to provide a clear, balanced and fact-based set of recommendations to the provincial government while acknowledging the present and future promise of aquaculture for BC coastal communities and First Nations.
What can we do to make sure that reason and factual information prevail over scare tactics and misinformation? We have to become as involved and active as those whose aim is to destroy the industry.
That’s why I’ve joined Positive Aquaculture awareness and the First dollar Alliance, to write letters, and support leaders and politicians who believe in the industry. We need to work hard together until the anti-aquaculture activists are forced into the corner where they belong.
Aquaculture is the future of healthy seafood and the preservation of the sea.
Dr. Patrick Moor is a co-Founder of Greenpeace and Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver. www.GreenspiritStrategies.com