Canada’s oceans can play an important role in a new and revitalized economy, but the first step is unquestionably to restore their productivity. That’s why we are grateful to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan for taking decisive action in December to protect wild B.C. salmon by closing open net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. Taken together with previous and planned closures in the Broughton Archipelago, the removal of over 30 salmon farms from the migratory routes will substantially improve the outlook for the future of wild salmon and their ecosystems.
Imagine if coastal B.C. had a renewable source of nutritious food and jobs that could sustain and employ thousands, and that all we needed to do was ensure that the natural salt and fresh water environment was restored and maintained in pristine condition. A source of food that would swim out to sea and pasture on naturally available feed, then return right to our doorstep – oh wait, we did have that and we can again! It is quite possible to have both a viable aquaculture industry AND restore wild salmon runs with the associated benefits to both people and the wildlife that used to depend upon these runs.
The open net-pen salmon farming industry struggles for recognition in a new blue economy for good reason. The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, of which Canada is a charter member, identified the changes needed to provide a future for aquaculture when it issued its ‘Roadmap to a Sustainable Ocean Economy’ last month. Their report found a place for finfish aquaculture if it could “avoid adversely affecting surrounding ecosystems and use fish feed that is not made from wild caught fish.” Those are two goals that salmon aquaculture must achieve in order to be sustainable and viable.
Salmon farming spokespeople have suggested that investment in technology is available to protect wild salmon and their ecosystems and create more jobs. We encourage such new investment and propose it be directed at land-based, closed containment aquaculture that would provide even more jobs, that are better paid and safer, in coastal communities.
The Canadian roadmap to a blue economy should be the Aquaculture Act currently in development at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. That act must require a transition of open net-pens to closed containment. It should also provide incentives for the development of regenerative aquaculture, like oyster, clam, mussel and seaweed farms that improve the environment while producing food. The adoption and development of such sustainable and responsible aquaculture systems represents an opportunity to arrest and reverse the socioeconomic decline in the Indigenous and coastal communities that have not benefited from open net-pen salmon farming.
Aquaculture has a role in addressing the food requirements of a growing global population and can and must be conducted in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner that affords the benefits without the costs. Commercial, Indigenous and recreational fishers have joined with conservation and eco-tourism groups and elected officials representing the political spectrum to endorse Minister Jordan’s leadership in driving the transition to responsible aquaculture in British Columbia.
Dave Boyes and Dane Chauvel