Friday, February 11, 2011

Fish Farming- The Debate Rages On……and On….and On....

By Steve Morrow of Fly Gal Ventures
The issue of aquaculture is one that resonates with this author. As a fishing guide, environmental science major and person that just plain likes fish (including to eat!) I am constantly monitoring the ongoing debate.
Aquaculture is a blanket grouping of such activities as fish farming, shellfish farming and aquatic plant farming.
In British Columbia, fish farming always seems to be in the hot seat. Farmed salmon is BC’s largest agricultural export.
On the BC coast, fish farming is done predominantly in open cages in the mouth of rivers, up inlets or in bays where the waters are usually quite calm.
The open cages mean that seawater is permitted to cycle through the pens.
Although evidence exists that links fish farms to declining wild salmon populations, the BC government continues to support open pen fish farming!
Salmon waste and discarded salmon food litters the sea floor underneath the net pens. Endemic levels of sea lice and frequent disease outbreaks plague fish farm operations. The situation is so dire that sea lice have begun showing resistance to the pesticide used to treat it, called Slice.
The issue with sea lice infestation and disease in farmed fish is that cross contamination can occur with wild fish.
Wild juvenile salmon en route from river to the ocean use similar areas as net pen salmon operations, to escape the elements. Adult salmon will pass through these areas also, returning to their birth rivers to spawn. Juvenile fish are particularly susceptible to injury and death at this time.
In countries like Scotland and Norway, once famous for immense runs of wild Atlantic salmon, fish farming is often blamed by critics for devastating the wild stocks. There was a long history of the salmon farming debate before it surfaced on the BC scene.
I believe enough evidence and opposition exists to warrant the termination of open net fish farming in BC.
To the credit of the provincial government, an indefinite moratorium on fish farming was placed on the salmon abundant, North BC coast. Although it was announced along with increased aquaculture operations on the south coast, it is still a victory. It will help protect the major Nass and Skeena drainages.
Question: Does indefinite mean soon to come?
In another recent victory for wild salmon populations in BC, the federal government announced they would award $640,000 through the Aquaculture Innovation and Market Access Program to a handful of companies showing potential involvement with sustainable aquaculture projects. Included are companies with new injectable sea lice vaccines and closed net pen projects.
Closed net pens, are considered by many to be a potential solution to the aquaculture dilemma, as it would halt the transfer of parasites and disease from farmed fish to wild stocks.
Is this an example of the government listening to scientific evidence?
I’m not overly sure.
The way I see it, the government heard the evidence and opposition to fish farming and made it clear with the moratorium. However they supported and even increased operations on the south coast.
It seems like a preschool teacher trying to teach students to share. The public gets a little and fish farmers get a little. The fact is still that by creating the north coast moratorium, the government understands that there is an issue and by increasing money for research into new practice, they further understand the negative science that exists. So are they just not listening?
Although correlation exists between declining fish farm populations and wild stocks, the annihilation of fish farming and the harvest of wild salmon alone, is not sustainable.
It is my opinion that aquaculture requires increased investment to create a sustainable industry, both environmentally and economically. It seems very plausible that environmentalists, the public, first nations and aquaculture operations could all find a happy compromise that would pollute less, endanger less and aggravate less.
Steve Morrow.