BC Salmon Farms: How Are They Affecting Wild Stocks?

Seafood is big business in British Columbia, with annual
exports of thousands of tons of seafood valued at millions of dollars, but the
boom in net cage farmed salmon has raised continuing controversy over their effect
on wild Pacific salmon.
In 2013, the latest year for which the government of British
Columbia produced an annual seafood industry review, the 17,300 tons of wild
salmon harvested had a landed value of $24.8 million and a wholesale value of
$178.2 million, compared with 81,500 tons of farmed salmon with a landed value
of $475.8 million, and a wholesale value of $594.5 million.
British Columbia’s salmon production, at 98,800 tons in
2013, increased by 13 percent over 2012 and accounted for 40 percent of all
seafood production in the province, according to the provincial government’s
report. Cultured salmon production, at 81,500 tons, made up 82 percent of that
total salmon harvest, with a wild fisheries harvest of 17,300 tons making up
the remainder of the catch.
“We are focused on growing fish the right way; creating jobs
and economic development,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the British
Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, based in Campbell River, on the east coast
of northern Vancouver Island.
The BCSFA sees aquaculture “as a tool that can help address
food security issues.”
Dunn identified the four association members growing farmed
salmon as Canadian owned Creative Salmon, of Tofino, BC, a partner organization
of Lions Gate Fisheries Ltd, which has investors from Japan; Cermaq Canada,
part of Cermaq Global Group in Norway, a fully owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi
Corp., a multinational Japanese firm; Grieg Seafood ASA, with headquarters in
Bergen, Norway; and Marine Harvest, also headquartered in Bergen, Norway, and
with operations in Scotland, Canada, the Faroe Islands, Ireland and Chile.
Several environmental groups and fisheries biologists see
fish farms as a threat to wild salmon.
The T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, in New
Westminster, BC, has raised concerns that open net cage salmon farming is
causing a host of problems for wild salmon and the ocean ecosystem. The
foundation has called for closed containment systems involving a barrier
between wild and farmed salmon.
And Alexandra Morton, an outspoken whale and fisheries
biologist in British Columbia puts much of the blame for the demise of wild
salmon on the Fraser River on fish farms. She has voiced her opinions on salmon
farm in documentary films, including “Salmon Confidential,” which is available
online on youtube.com.
“When you place these things (salmon farms) right on the
migration route above salmon, it is like walking a child through the infectious
disease ward of a hospital on their way to school,” she said. “It is exactly
the same dynamic where you have a high intensity of disease and pathogens in
the farm and you are allowing that to pour out into the ocean and infect wild
Ted Meyers, a fisheries pathologist with the Alaska
Department of Fish and Game, takes issue with the documentary “Salmon
Confidential,” saying that it is mostly misinformation and inaccuracies.

There appears to be no near end to the controversy in sight,
as more requests are filed for more salmon farms and the Canadian government
wrestles with changes in its Fisheries Act and aquaculture regulations.