Press Centre

Critics challenge health of Canadian salmon industry

By George Baker
Prince Rupert Daily News

PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. — Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea went to Boston to extol the virtues of Canadian seafood, but critics of salmon farms say they don't know how she could call the practice safe.

A news release issued by the Fisheries Department before Shea's trip to the annual International Boston Seafood Show said would promote Canada as "a leader in the production of high-quality, safe and nutritious fish and seafood."

"The stability, predictability, and innovation of Canada's fish and seafood sector are key elements that are helping our businesses remain profitable and competitive, while providing thousands of Canadians with jobs," Shea said in the release.

Des Nobles, a former fisherman and spokesman for the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, which advocates the environment and the protection of fish habitat, said the word "healthy" is misleading when it comes to salmon farms.

"If you look closely at the B.C. salmon farming industry and the issues surrounding the industry, I would suggest that it is anything but healthy," he said.
Open-net salmon farms remain controversial largely because sea lice found on the fish can impact wild salmon stocks.

According to the Fisheries Department's news release, Shea met with Canadian exporters and U.S. importers of Canadian fish and seafood products to discuss market-related issues and the methods used in Canada to sustainably harvest and farm fish and seafood resources.

Figures from the Fisheries Department show Canada's seafood exports topped $3.6 billion in 2009.

Two-thirds of the exports, or $2.3 billion worth, were destined for the United States while the European Union imported more than $416 million in seafood and Japan imported $264 million of the products.

According to the BC Salmon Farmers Association, the province's salmon farm exports were valued at $330.9 million for the 50,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon sent to the U.S., the European Union and Japan.

"We're proud of the economic benefit our salmon farms have for local communities, the province and the nation," said Mary Ellen Walling, the association's executive director.
"We've developed a sustainable industry by balancing the environment, community and economy. To be truly sustainable, businesses have to be accountable to future generations on all three of those principles. And we are."

Conrad Lewis, one of the Kitkatla First Nation's most vocal opponents of fish farms, didn't agree with Walling's view.

"I would say the opposite," he said.

"The reason I would say the opposite of that is if our government - the Premier of British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada - if they even did two-thirds of what they do for fish farms for wild salmon, I think you would see our wild salmon stocks on the upswing rather than dwindling."

According to that report, the wholesale value of the year's cultured salmon harvest - both Pacific and Atlantic - was $495.2 million, making it the province's "single-most significant commodity."

Such reports, however, aren't likely to be welcomed on the north coast of B.C.

A moratorium on open net fish farms has been in place for two years.

Some pilot projects are looking at closed-containment nets to see if that is a viable way of running fish farms.

In her statement, Shea seemed to play down concerns about fish farming.

"Consumers around the world can be confident that Canadian products are also sustainable, harvested and farmed according to rigorous environmental monitoring and management regulations," she said.

But Nobles and his group disagree with that assessment.

The T. Buck Suzuki Foundation recently won a court order for a Freedom of Information request for information regarding sea lice infestation at B.C. salmon farms.
In a March 1 order, B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner said the Agriculture Ministry could no longer conceal records of sea lice infestations, based on information gathered during visits to salmon farms.

Now the question, said Nobles, is when the group will receive the information.

"To be perfectly honest, although the ruling was in our favour, that still doesn't ensure that the information will be received in a timely fashion," he said.

"There are still a number of things that the government can do to make it awkward to say the least. And in the end, who really is enforcing this? A court order is a court order - that is a wonderful thing. But who will enforce it?"