John Paul Fraser: Lessons learned about ocean-based salmon farms

August 9, 2018
John Paul Fraser: Lessons learned about ocean-based salmon farms
The Province,   August 9, 2018
About three-quarters of the salmon B.C. harvests each year comes from ocean-based farms is just one of many facts the new executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association has learned.

I have an admission to make. I had doubts when I was first approached about becoming a candidate for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association’s new executive director.

I have seen the media stories about the industry and, frankly, didn’t know much about it other than some of the negative impressions that left.

But as I started looking a little deeper, it did not take long for my perspective to radically shift, and for me to start becoming passionate about salmon farming in B.C. In just a few weeks I have come to know it is a really important industry, but deeply misunderstood.

I did not know that almost three-quarters of the salmon B.C. harvests each year comes from ocean-based farms. Or that the industry supports thousands of families living in B.C.’s coastal communities with good-paying, steady jobs. A lot of those jobs are held by young, local First Nations people who are deeply connected to the environment they work in and the communities in which they grew up.

Perhaps most clearly, I learned salmon farming is one of our province’s green industries, raising a sustainable product with minimal environmental impact because they have effectively addressed every issue that has been raised. It has done the hard work required to evolve, to get better, greener, more responsible.

Meeting with the people who raise these fish I have been struck by how deeply they understand that wild salmon come first and that they must play a critical role in protecting wild populations: by operating responsibly and using the most innovative techniques, by supporting and acting on independent science, and by giving consumers a local and healthy alternative when making their meal choices.

I was struck by how passionate they are about providing a healthy, sustainable food.

I learned that in B.C. fish farming is the most regulated industry in the agricultural sector, and our farmers committed to achieving the world’s most stringent third-party environmental and social standards certification.

I also learned that the UN itself is a proponent of aquaculture because the human race needs the food fish farming produces. Today, more than half of the fish we consume globally comes from farms, and the UN just issued a report predicting that will grow to two-thirds in just the next 12 years.

Wild fish populations here and around the world are under pressure from overfishing and climate change. Wild fish are an important food, but eating too much of it only puts them under more pressure, so if we want to eat fish responsibly we need to farm it. B.C. can play a key role in that.

Raising more salmon on land to complement sustainable ocean-based farming is part of the answer — but moving all our fish on land is not. Raising large numbers of fish on land hasn’t yet been accomplished anywhere in the world, and trying to make that move would have significant environmental consequences.

Fish raised in big ocean pens swim in natural ocean currents, keeping them healthy and happy. Replicating that natural environment in concrete tanks would require huge amounts of electricity, increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

It would also require us to pave over huge tracts of land — about 159 square kilometres, approximately the size of 28,000 Canadian football fields, to bring all the salmon being farmed in Canada on land.

We need to responsibly consider consequences like this before we latch on to a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.

Our opportunity is in front of us — to raise fish off our coast — responsibly, sustainably, and in consultation and growing partnership with First Nations and other communities.

The opportunity to correct the misunderstandings about this important industry and ensure it takes its rightful place along products such as wine, skiing, timber and technology as part of British Columbians’ identity drew me to this role.

My first priority in this role will be to earn the public’s trust. I know there is a lot of work to do on that front, and I’m passionate about getting started.

John Paul Fraser is the new executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association

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