Salmon farming has a key role to play in protecting wild fish

Although you might not know it from coverage in some media of late, salmon farming is one of the greenest and most sustainable rural industries that British Columbia has going for it. Stewart Muir looks at the situation.


As a researcher and former journalist who goes beyond the headlines to study the benefits and challenges of numerous resource industries, it has struck me as peculiar that a beneficial endeavour like salmon farming is facing some vocal opposition rather than being celebrated as a home-grown success story.

It’s true there are real issues regarding protection of wild salmon, which is something we should all be concerned about.

If farms were really out of hand, you would expect Chinook salmon populations in places with no farms would be healthier, but that is not the case at all. Wild fish stocks are experiencing the same issues whether they live near farms, or not.

Some would have us believe we should focus on fishing wild stocks instead of farming. Killing millions of wild salmon is the way to save them? Give me a break. It’s a con job, no more truthful than the old PR claims that cigarettes are good for us. It will no doubt be looked back at as being just as harmful in its own way. 

Science points not to farming but to over-fishing and climate change as the top issues our wild salmon face. Unethical fishing fleets from around the world devastate wild stocks. Warming ocean temperatures are having a significant impact.

Habits are sensitive. Developing, building, and operating in full recognition of the sensitivity of local habitats is paying off for salmon farmers, and for consumers who gain healthy and affordable food choices. Here is one example of green progress:

Numerous studies about the interactions between wild and farmed salmon have found no evidence of negative impact on wild Pacific salmon populations from salmon farming. Investments in innovation and education have made B.C. a world leader in science-based aquaculture. Governments under pressure to apply the precautionary principle would be wise to think carefully about the precedent this sets for any kind of permitting. 

While Vancouver PR spin doctors cook up made-for-TV scare tactics to oppose certified healthy farmed salmon, away from public scrutiny salmon farm workers have been targeted with daily intimidation from protesters who trespass on farm sites, issuing threats and polluting farm waters. On May 17, B.C.’s Supreme Court ruled to eject organizers connected with an intimidation campaign aimed at the women and men raising fish at Swanson Island. The judicial rebuke to offensive and wrong behaviour comes as welcome news.

Some politicians are trying to spin the opposition to farms as a simple choice – just move them off the ocean onto the land and wild salmon are saved. Wonderful! There you go, simple solution.

An on-land salmon farming experiment was tried recently in British Columbia. Despite millions in taxpayer subsidies, it was a costly flop.

Now, some of the same players, who readily admit their underlying strategy is about getting rid of ocean farming, have their hand out again for another million dollars. The answer has to be a firm “no”. Equaling current production of B.C. farmed salmon on land would require an estimated $5 billion in new investment, and the necessary technology still doesn’t exist. This is not about “replacement”, it is a thinly disguised bid to annihilate a sector that puts food on the tables of thousands of working families. Putting those breadwinners on EI would only increase pressure on wild stocks from over-fishing to meet the resulting gap in supply.

Perhaps the cruellest blow would be to the many First Nations whose members work in salmon farming – good jobs creating self-sustaining local economies.

Science-supported salmon farming deserves so much better than what it is receiving now. Restoring respect and truth to the ongoing dialogue is an important step forward.

Thumbnail image by Tavish Campbell

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