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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

February 2, 2006

 

Title: Norway, British Columbia I

 

Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Tish Woodley

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome once again to Deconstructing Dinner produced in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio (CJLY) in Nelson, British Columbia, I'm your host Jon Steinman.

 

Here on Deconstructing Dinner, we dissect our daily food choices and discuss the impacts that these choices have on ourselves, communities, and the planet.

With food representing a component of all of our lives, Deconstructing Dinner has been designed as a show for all British Columbians.

 

On today's show we will discuss one of the most heated debates on food here in this province, and that is, of course, the debate surrounding the salmon farming industry here in British Columbia, also known as aquaculture.

 

Today's broadcast will be the first of many on this topic given the public is increasingly becoming more aware of the issues. Just a couple of weeks ago it was announced by Canada's largest farmed salmon company, Marine Harvest Canada, that a framework for dialogue has been initiated with the 9-member Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, also known as CAAR.

 

We will be discussing that and more on today's show, and joining me will be Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation; Corey Peet, a graduate student at the University of Victoria, who is also affiliated with the Raincoast Conservation Society; Alexandra Morton of Raincoast Research; Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society; and Clare Backman of Marine Harvest Canada.

 

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The debate surrounding salmon farming has received more media attention than almost any issue relating to global food sources. With the increasing public awareness of the topic, it is now standard to walk into major food retailers and be able to differentiate between farmed and wild salmon, given indication can now commonly be found on the label. This debate has been waging for over 10 years now and has only increased with time as the industry itself increases in size. So, given how long this issue has been in the public eye, it would be comforting to think that our provincial and federal government have taken the necessary steps in ensuring that the public is comfortable with this industry that has been so scrutinized.

 

It wasn't so long ago that the provincial NDP government placed a moratorium in 1995 on the creation of new sites for salmon farming. This was done in order to better assess the environmental sustainability of the industry. During this time, the 16-month long Salmon Aquaculture Review was conducted, and as a result, 49 recommendations were made that, although were criticized as not being enough, it was nevertheless collectively agreed upon as a step in the right direction. There was only one problem: many of the recommendations were never implemented and then, in 2002, the newly-elected Liberal government lifted the moratorium and the creation of new sites began once again and the industry carried on with very little changes made.

 

And as is the case today, both the provincial and federal government continue to promote the industry and ensure British Columbians that all is well in the waters of farmed salmon.

 

But here we are left with what can be considered the perfect illustration of how our food supply and food systems here in this province are in real jeopardy. There is a wealth of scientific research that indicates the negative impacts the salmon farming industry is having on our health and the environment, and given that this wealth of scientific opposition to a way in which our food is produced has not stopped the expansion of the industry raises serious concern for the people of British Columbia.

 

We will hear shortly from Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, who will shed some light on the key issues that face the salmon farming industry. But before we get to him, maybe it is first best to understand who is behind the industry itself.

 

To do so we can jump back to the early 80s when salmon farming in B.C. consisted of small operations that proved to not be financially viable or sustainable. At the time, Norway was the leader in farmed salmon production and all of the research and innovation was related to the Atlantic salmon. Norwegian companies saw the B.C. coast as being an ideal location to expand their progress and their already large stake in the global farmed salmon market. So the Norwegians knocked on Canada's door and said, hey there Canada, do you mind if we come over to British Columbia and farm some Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Ocean? Canada said, well Norway, why would you bring Atlantic salmon into the Pacific, why not farm Pacific salmon? Well, Norway said, the Pacific variety doesn't quite fit into our marketing strategy and, plus, Atlantic salmon convert feed to meat much more efficiently and are far less aggressive. Canada understood and said, well, Norway, how are you going to ensure that these Atlantic salmon don't escape and negatively affect our stocks of wild Pacific salmon? Norway laughed and said, well, Canada, we have developed this great technology where we can raise millions of salmon on one site and do so in large open-net cages that sit immersed in your sheltered bodies of water. The promise of jobs and economic prosperity came with this proposal, and the salmon farming industry in B.C. was born.

 

The industry is still dominated by Norwegian companies with over 80% of the industry now being controlled by only three companies. Two of these, Cermaq and PanFish, are both Norwegian multi-nationals, and the third and largest is Marine Harvest, a company that is based in both Norway and the Netherlands.

 

Since this 'innovative' open-net technology was introduced in Canada, tens of thousands of non-native species of salmon have even been found along the Alaskan coast where farming operations do not even exist. In 2004, Grieg Seafood - another Norwegian company with operations here in B.C. - lost approximately 33,000 farmed Atlantic salmon in May of 2004 from a farm in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

 

But the issue of farmed salmon escaping into the wild is one of many issues that surrounds the salmon farming industry, and to better inform us about these issues, I was joined by Jay Ritchlin. Jay is the Marine Campaign Strategist for the David Suzuki Foundation, and they're based in Vancouver. He has been involved in Environmental Science and Advocacy for 15 years. Jay lists off some of the key issues surrounding the salmon farming industry here in B.C.

 

Jay Ritchlin: Some of the key impacts that we are concerned about include the transfer of diseases and parasites, like sea lice, between farmed and wild fish: the escape of salmon, whether they're Atlantic salmon who can colonize our rivers and our habitats and compete for food, or whether they're Pacific salmon that can actually interbreed with our wild salmon and reduce their fitness. The waste from the salmon farming operations - excess feed, feces from the fish, the remaining antibiotics and other chemicals than are used on the farms - are a direct impact to the immediate environment. The impact of the antibiotics and other chemicals themselves on the health of the fish and the potential resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, those are issues that are still being researched.

 

One of the issues that sort of goes beyond the local environment is the use of food fish from around the world to create feed for salmon growth in the north and in the wealthier countries. The depletion of that fish feed takes between 2 and 4 kilograms of wild fish to grow a kilogram of farmed salmon. And then, of course, you have the interactions with local wildlife - seals, whales, eagles - all try to get into the pens and have variously been shot or deterred with undesirable methods by the farms. And, finally, the potential, although it has not happened yet to any great degree, for genetically modified organisms to be grown in the open-net pens. So, I think those are the overarching issues. Of course, we also have economic impact of a glut of farmed salmon on the global market is negatively impacted wild salmon prices for many years.

 

Jon Steinman: One of the key issues surrounding the salmon farming industry is the higher amount of fish protein required to produce one salmon. It is often argued that fish farming provides an alternative to the global depletion of wild fish stocks. So I asked Jay to further explain where the need for farmed salmon is coming from.

 

Jay Ritchlin: There is a variety of places. Wastes in some cases are used, and in Canada we do use some waste from the herring fishery. We're not allowed to go out and fish our own Pacific stocks and turn them directly into feed at this point. South America is the major supplier of feed fish that we would be using in Canadian feed formulations. The northern Atlantic supplies primarily the Norwegian feed industry, although a certain amount of the North American industry would get its fish from those stocks as well. And those stocks are most or all at their maximum or over-exploited levels, according to the International Food and Agricultural Association.

 

Jon Steinman: Another issue that Jay mentioned that surrounds the industry was the risk of farmed salmon escaping into the wild. 75% of the industry farms Atlantic salmon, which are of course a non-native species to the Pacific and, even with the other 25% of farmed salmon being the Pacific varieties of Chinook and Coho, the farmed versions of these species have become so genetically similar that they do not have any relation to the diversity of these species in the wild. One of the initial claims made by the industry was that the risk of escape was minimal. When this proved to be false, the claim was made that these farmed species of salmon would not be able to successfully reproduce in the wild. Jay responds.

 

Jay Ritchlin: There have been over 81 rivers with Atlantic salmon found in them, in 81 British Columbian rivers and streams. And it's worth noting that only a small portion of the rivers and streams have actually been surveyed, so it's a fairly significant finding. Originally there was the claim that they would not escape, and then we found that they escaped. Then there was the claim that they would not survive in the Pacific wild; we found that they did survive. Then there was the claim that they would not reproduce, and we have found genetic evidence of subsequent generations from Atlantic salmon breeding.

 

Jon Steinman: The long-term risks of how these non-native species will affect an ecosystem that has evolved over millions of years is, of course, difficult to predict, but the provincial government does indicate that preventing the escape of farmed fish is a top priority, and this priority can be seen in, of course, the penalties and fines that are administered to these companies upon the report of escaped fish. One of these instances occurred in January of 2002 at one of Cermaq's farm sites, when approximately 10,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into the Pacific Ocean after a storm. It was determined by the courts that it was corporate negligence that caused the escape and not the storm itself, but Cermaq successfully argued for a reduced fine by indicating how the company had already suffered the loss of the fish themselves. The judge overseeing the case decided to fine Cermaq only $1,000. But this relaxed response to violations committed by these salmon farming operations is not unique to just this case. One of the major arguments against the government is the frequency in which these fines are either dismissed or in some cases even returned to those companies that have already paid them. In one instance, Cermaq was fined only $115 for stocking their Bawden Point farm with almost one million Atlantic salmon, even though the approved stocking level was only 250,000.

 

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Yet another issue to be concerned with regarding the salmon farming industry is the level of waste produced by these farms. The David Suzuki Foundation has indicated that the 49,600 tonnes of farmed salmon produced in B.C. in 2000 contributed as much nitrogen as the untreated sewage from 682,000 people or as much phosphorous as the sewage from 216,000 people. Jay further explains the issues surrounding the waste matter that enters into the waters off the B.C. coast.

 

Jay Ritchlin: The farms are located in areas that are also good habitat for wild salmon, shellfish, other marine resources that are either important for the food chain in the marine environment or are in many cases traditional foods of First Nations. The wastes from the farms include the feces from the fish, and that in and of itself can be, can have quite a smothering effect on the bottom. The method that the provincial government uses to assess the waste levels underneath the pens is inadequate to really stop a loss of biodiversity, and even reports from Fisheries and Oceans Canada have suggested that the restricted level is high enough to allow loss of diversity of well over half of the diversity underneath the pens.

 

Jon Steinman: The regulations managing the discharge of waste fall under the B.C. Ministry of the Environment's Environmental Management Branch. I did, however, come across the 2003 Site Inspection Compliance Report which is conducted each year by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and ensures that standards and regulations are being met at the various aquaculture sites in the province.

 

The compliance report is simple: there is a list of requirements that farming sites must follow, and the report gives the inspector an option to check Yes or No in regards to whether the company has complied. One of these requirements is in regards to Sewage Treatment, Disposal and Record Keeping. Given the incredible amounts of waste produced by these farms, I thought this requirement of sewage treatment deserved some attention.

 

So I took a look at the various reports of each company and came across the report for EWOS Aquaculture Ltd. - which is a division of Cermaq, which I recently mentioned - and in 2003 they did not comply with this sewage treatment requirement. The report lists details as to how the company did not comply, and in the case of EWOS Aquaculture Ltd., they did not comply because they failed to provide washrooms on three of their salmon farming sites.

 

And this is no joke. Our government inspectors are ensuring that washrooms be available on fish farming sites: heaven forbid that any employees should be forced to urinate or defecate into the water. And if you don't believe me, you can check out this report on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, and there will be a link to this report from the Deconstructing Dinner website.

 

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For those of you just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner where, in light of a recent and potentially crucial agreement between Marine Harvest Canada and the nine member groups of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, the topic of today's broadcast is salmon farming. If you have any interest to learn more about the issues discussed on today's broadcast or perhaps previous broadcasts, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner where all this information can be found and where archived versions of the broadcasts are also located.

 

We are presently hearing from Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation as he sheds light on the major issues surrounding the salmon farming industry.

Outside of the Commercial Fishers and Conservation community opposing these open-net salmon farms are many First Nation groups. A significant number of these salmon farming operations are located on or near First Nation territory. Jay Ritchlin explains why some of these groups are opposing salmon farming operations.

 

Jay Ritchlin: Well, I want to make it clear first that the David Suzuki Foundation is not speaking on behalf of any First Nation in British Columbia, and also that there are a diversity of views amongst Coastal and Interior First Nations around, around salmon farming. A large number of Nations, however, have taken a zero tolerance policy toward open-net cages. The Musgamagw-Tswatainuek Tribal Council, which is in the area around Alert Bay, is a member of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. They have a zero tolerance policy towards net cages and, in fact, they have through traditional knowledge identified some serious concerns about the waste impacts of the farms on some of their traditional shellfish resources, and are in the midst of a study right now where they're examining the heavy metal content, the health of the shellfish, and they're looking at that very carefully, and I don't want to presuppose what they're going to find: the results are pending and waiting to be published. But I know that the traditional knowledge was very clear that the shellfish beds were suffering some negative effects from the salmon farming.

 

Jon Steinman: Another issue that Jay mentioned may eventually pose yet another threat to B.C.'s coastal environment would be the introduction of genetically modified salmon. This has yet to be approved, but a Massachusetts-based company called Aqua Bounty has created a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as farmed salmon. The company is in the final stages of a five-year battle to get the product approved.

 

But moving on from the actual issues surrounding the industry, the two key arguments on both sides of the table are: one, that both wild salmon and farmed salmon can co-exist. This is the argument presented by both the provincial and federal governments, along with the industry itself; the other argument based on the issues just discussed is that there is no chance that both wild and farmed salmon can co-exist in the same environment. Jay explains what seems to be the firm stance of the member groups composing the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform.

 

Jay Ritchlin: Especially in the context of British Columbia with our vibrant wild salmon populations, the answer is that they can only co-exist if they are entirely separated from each other. I don't think there's any other scientific evidence right now that suggests that we can run an open-net cage system that allows the farm wastes, escaped fish, parasites and diseases to transfer between the farms and the wild and have a hope of maintaining a healthy wild salmon population that doesn't suffer from that interaction.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation. We will be hearing from Jay later on in the show, but one issue that was mentioned earlier and has not yet been touched on is the issue of parasites and the debate over whether or not salmon farming operations are increasing the prevalence of the parasite known as sea lice. This is considered to be the most serious of all issues, given that many recent studies have shown increasing rates of sea lice being found on juvenile wild salmon. The industry claims that there has not been any increase of salmon lice on wild salmon populations.

 

And as is the case, salmon lice are in fact originating on wild salmon and then infecting the farmed salmon populations. To help better explain how a parasite that is natural to the environment has now been proven to be negatively affecting this very environment, I invited Corey Peet onto the show. Corey is a graduate student in Marine Ecology at the University of Victoria, and he's finishing up his research on the interactions between sea lice and young pink and chum salmon. He has recently joined the Raincoast Conservation Society as a science advisor for their Salmon Aquaculture campaign.

 

Corey spoke to me over the phone from Salt Spring Island and explained what sea lice are and how farmed salmon operations are posing a threat to wild salmon populations.

 

Corey Peet: Sea lice are a natural parasite of Pacific salmon and, from what we know, we know that they are normal and do occur in high levels, although I should say variable levels on adult Pacific salmon, and the real question that we don't really understand is what are the normal levels for juvenile salmon.

 

The key thing that you need to keep in mind when you're talking about any kind of parasite and host is that over evolutionary time they've developed a balance between them. And so when we're talking about sea lice being problematic due to the activities of salmon farms, what we're really talking about is how they can change that balance and disrupt it in a way that potentially puts young wild salmon at significant risk for health impacts.

 

So, in other words, the natural story of sea lice and salmon basically starts off when the adult salmon come back to spawn in their rivers in the fall. When they do that they're bringing with them sea lice on their backs - it can vary from zero to several hundred sea lice per fish. However, when they hit the rivers, those lice die because they can't tolerate fresh water. And I should point out at this point too that the lice that we're interested in, although there are a couple of species that infect salmon, the main one that causes the damage is a salmon-specific parasite, so in other words we'll just call it salmon lice. So adult salmon come back with salmon lice, when they hit the rivers the salmon lice die. And as they're coming inshore there's a potential for them to infect any near-shore salmonids that are there; but, of course, most of those salmonids are heading up into the rivers where they're going to spawn and die and the fresh water is going to kill the lice.

 

However, there's probably a few overwintering Chinook and Coho that could carry on the salmon lice population over the winter at low levels. That's when the juveniles, young salmon that come out in the spring, say around March or April, they're heading to sea with a low chance of getting infected by salmon lice, the salmon-specific parasite. When you add salmon farms into that mix, they represent the perfect habitat that's never been available for salmon life over the winter, so when the adult salmon come back, they infect the salmon farm because salmon farms use open-net pens, which basically allow a free-flow interaction between the wild environment and the farm environment. So anything that happens on the farm can be transferred out of the farm into the marine environment and vice versa.

 

So the wild salmon come back, they infect the farm on their way into the rivers, the farm can then breed lice all winter and expose the young salmon, in the case of young pink chum salmon, they come out of their rivers only about 5cms long and weighing less than a gram, and they can expose them to very high lice levels that they've never evolved a defense to deal with. Typically they would come out of the rivers and face a very low chance of being infected by sea lice. Now they're coming out of the rivers in some areas where there's salmon farms and facing a very high chance of being infected.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was University of Victoria graduate student Corey Peet, also of the Raincoast Conservation Society. Corey has spent many researching hours with one of the most well-known researchers on the interactions of sea lice and wild salmon populations - and that is Alexandra Morton of Raincoast Research.

 

Originally from Connecticut, Alexandra Morton moved to B.C. in 1980. In the early 90s her research then shifted to salmon. Since then she has published numerous articles based on her research and co-authored the book Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming. This was released in 2004.

 

Alexandra joined me over the phone from her home in Echo Bay located in the Broughton Archipelago. I presented a statement to Alexandra that was made shortly after the moratorium on the expansion of the salmon farming industry was lifted in 2002, when the then provincial Minster of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, John van Dongen, stated that “Fish farming,” and I quote, “fish farming in British Columbia is a responsible and environmentally sustainable industry.” End quote. In the release, with this statement, the provincial government then dismissed all allegations from the environmental community. With Alexandra Morton being a key figure in this environmental community, I asked her to respond to the statement.

 

Alexandra Morton: One of the things I've discovered in this long road of dealing with salmon farms is that one of the methods to deal with this industry is just to say whatever it is comes to mind, and that quote, is one of those type of comments. He's not right: I'm not only in the environmental community, but I'm firmly in the scientific community, as you know, the leading producer of science on the impacts of aquaculture now.

 

The scientific literature, if you look at what has actually been published, is all in agreement, and it all shows that this is a very high risk industry. It needs to managed strictly in terms of protecting the wild fish and, in general, governments don't have an appetite to actually do that.

 

Now when he says leading government scientists are saying this industry is safe, he's right. Many government scientists are saying everything is fine, that this is responsibly managed, they are bringing up theories as to why some of the impacts are happening and trying to disperse those impacts over other natural causes. But if you try to find actual science produced on those theories, you won't find them.

 

For example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not produced a single scientific paper in a journal on the impact of sea lice on juvenile salmon. This is shocking! This issue has been going on for five years now. I have four papers out. The graduate students working at my place have papers out. Many leading universities are now working on this. Fisheries and Oceans Canada keeps saying everything's fine, maybe these problems are coming from stickleback and other sources, but they don't have anything to back that up.

 

And when you further look at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, you'll find that it's a very schizophrenic organization: that the talking head is saying one thing, but the scientists in the field actually are not agreeing with what the talking head is saying. And this is a very standard practice within Fisheries and Oceans Canada, this is exactly how the East Coast cod stock collapsed. You had scientists on the ground, in the fields, saying the cod are getting smaller, we have a problem here, and their work was being censored.

 

We had the same problem when Alcan tried to take all the water out of the Nechako River. Now over both of those issues scientists quit, and in this case we have some top, top scientists within Fisheries and Oceans Canada who are not allowed to speak their mind on this issue, and I feel for them, but in the end it's really the wild stocks and the public that really suffer from this type of behaviour.

 

I mean, these guys are just trying to protect themselves, they can't speak up and they're not allowed, they threaten their careers. So what needs to happen is that scientists have to be removed from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It used to be that way. We used to have a Fisheries Research Board that was one of the leading scientific agencies on fish in the world, highly, highly respected, but it got seconded within DSO more recently and now all science is censored and that is not going to be good for the public or for the wild fish.

 

Jon Steinman: As was mentioned earlier, the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans continues to promote the industry while they conduct their own research. But on January 5th, a paper compiled by Alexandra Morton and Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University appeared in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management. The study indicated that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is using an ineffective method for measuring the health of juvenile wild salmon. Shortly after this report was published, the Vancouver Sun ran an article on the topic which appeared on the front page of their January 16th edition.

 

Alexandra explains the Fulton Condition Factor being used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

 

Alexandra Morton: The condition factor is a formula that measures weight against length, and it's used widely to assess generally how a fish is doing. But it doesn't work all that well on juvenile salmon and it's been misused many times. As a matter of fact, the scientists hired by Exxon came up with exactly the same theory as DFO in regards to the impact of the oil spilled by the tanker Valdez. They said the condition factor of the young pink salmon under the oil slick was actually higher than the condition factor for fish that were in pristine areas of Alaska.

 

So, in looking at that, I wasn't surprised that they tried this here. What I found was simply that the young pink salmon that have sea lice on them try very, very hard to keep their body weight up and so they eat voraciously, and for a short period of time they are fatter than their brothers that don't have sea lice. But then when the sea lice get bigger, the little fish lose this battle, and very quickly they begin to lose weight, become emaciated, and they're generally, I think, in the wild, they are picked off by predators.

 

So this was the problem: Fisheries and Oceans Canada came in, they fished around, they looked for the fish with sea lice and they found that they were fat. So what I did with Dr. Routledge was we held the fish with lice and the fish without lice, and we put them in containment in the ocean so we could actually watch what happened to them. And that's how we came out with our paper.

 

Now, to their credit, Fisheries and Ocean Canada never did publish this theory. They found these numbers were high and this was very favorable to the salmon aquaculture industry and government supporters, so they tried it out for awhile, but they themselves dropped it, they have not published it, they withdrew papers on it from conferences. It was just something that they looked into for awhile, but I don't think they would support that now.

 

Jon Steinman: In 2003 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans initiated their Pink Salmon Action Plan which called for the fallowing of a select number of salmon farms - fallowing is an agricultural word used to describe a season when a farm is left unseeded. During this time Alexandra conducted her own research and compared the salmon populations before, during and after the fallowing between 2002 and 2004. As Alexandra explains, her findings were the same as the Department's findings, but the interpretations of their results were different.

 

Alexandra Morton: That study was really very, very clear. In 2002 there was high levels of sea lice. When they took the farmed fish out of this sensitive habitat the number of lice plummeted, it dropped enormously, from like ten per fish to just over one. And then in 2004 when they put the farmed fish back on the route, the sea lice came back up again. And, interestingly enough, and something that never comes out in the media, is that DFO's numbers and my numbers are exactly the same, it's just the interpretation that's being put on them.

 

So, what I've found in general is that if you go places where there's no farms, there's no lice. If you take the farmed fish out of the farm, there's very few lice. If you put the farmed fish back, there's more lice. If your farmed fish are older, there's more lice than when the farmed fish are younger. Anyway you slice this, the lice are affected by your farmed fish.

 

And the Europeans are really funny about this: they say, Can't you guys read over there? We've had this problem, we've dealt with this problem. Yes, the sea lice do proliferate on the farmed fish. Of course they do! It's a big population of available hosts; of course you're going to have a parasite problem, you do on every farm, every farm has to deal with parasites. And the trouble with salmon farms, of course, is that you've got this breeze of water, this current, just washing through the pens and it's picking the lice larvae up and it's moving them out. That's something you don't find on terrestrial farms: you don't have this conveyor belt that's moving everything in the farms out of the farms. So, one Scottish scientist wrote me and he said a five-year old could figure this out, and for sure, myself and everyone in the field working on this, it's plain as the nose on your face.

 

But there's this resistance, and I really didn't understand why there would be this resistance until I saw the movie “Corporation.” And what sea lice are is they're an external cost that the salmon farmers are basically getting the public to pay, and by doing this their profit margin is just a little bit larger. So they don't have to worry about controlling their sea lice and it's huge effect, then they make more money, and that's all that's going on here, they're just being sloppy. And every industry tries this, but eventually they're all brought under control, and I would really urge the salmon farming industry to address this, because something you don't realize is that fish science is usually in the hands of the “big boys.” You need helicopters, you need big boats, you need submarines to study most types of fish. But sea lice and young salmon are right on the surface of the water. I can see them, the graduate students can see them, the university professors can see them, and very, very quickly the science is just pouring in on this issue, and it would be better for the salmon farmers and the government to own up at this point and just get on with the solution, because there's some really clear solutions and we could have both. That's not the issue. It's just that it's going to be a little bit expensive for the salmon farmers and, therefore, they don't want to take that step.

 

Jon Steinman: That was Alexandra Morton of Raincoast Research and also the co-author of the book Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming.

 

As Alexandra explains, even a five-year old could have figured out the negative effects of creating a farm with no walls in the middle of a fragile aquatic ecosystem. One of the key questions becomes, so how is it that this industry continues to operate?

 

As Alexandra discovered from watching the film “The Corporation,” it's understandable. Another way to look at the perplexing question is by hopping across the Atlantic to Norway - home to the majority of companies operating here in Canada. In Norway, their #1 export is seafood. The global production of farmed salmon, for one, is 1.25 million tones, and Norway farms 570,000 tonnes of that, that's 46% of global production. So, here's the big question, if news leaked out that something “fishy” was going on in Norway's salmon industry or research indicated the industry was not environmentally sustainable, would Norwegian government agencies agree, or would they do whatever they possibly could to protect one of the country's principle exports and one of the key drivers of the Norwegian economy? Why is this a concern for British Columbians? Because here in B.C., farmed salmon is the province's largest agricultural export contributing around $230 million dollars to the provincial economy.

 

It would be interesting to mention that in October of 2004, B.C. Auditor General Wayne Strelioff said this of the provincial government's role in the industry, and I quote: “Existing provincial legislation and regulations do not provide adequate protection for salmon habitat.” End quote. And that was the B.C. Auditor General making this observation.

 

And In 2001, the Federal Auditor General released an internal audit, stating that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is in a conflict of interest as they try to promote the expansion of salmon farming while being legally mandated to look after wild fish and fish habitat. And I quote: “The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act

to protect wild Pacific salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming.” End quote. And again, this is from a Report of the Auditor General of Canada, February 2001.

 

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As Alexandra Morton is at the forefront of research indicating problems with the salmon farming industry, she has certainly been the target by the B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association, also known as the BCSFA, an association that aims, among other things, to provide the public with information relating to the industry. There are some mentions on the BCSFA website that attack Alexandra's research and the research of others. In one instance research conducted by the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council determined that wild salmon populations were dangerously low in areas of the Broughton Archipelago and, in one instance, at Glendale Creek. The B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association deny that this is a result of fish farms and indicates that in 1987 wild salmon returns were as low as 6,000. But, as Alexandra responds, variation is normal, and while all the rivers in the Broughton Archipelago crashed, population returns did very well elsewhere. Alexandra further explains that there was no mortality of adults pre-spawning and no damage to spawning grounds in Glendale Creek, thereby indicating that the dramatic decline in the population had to be a result of the near-shore environment.

 

So the key question that now remains, is, what are the alternatives to open-net salmon farming? We previously heard from Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, and he further explains the main alternative being proposed, and that is the introduction into the industry of closed-tank systems.

 

Jay Ritchlin: There is a proposal right now to install floating concrete tank capacity at an industrialized area north of Campbell River, and those would be floating concrete closed tanks. We're supporting those developments. There's a number of companies trying to start new projects in France and the Faro Islands, in the U.K., in Canada and, I believe, especially in British Columbia, that we have the opportunity to set ourselves apart from our larger competitors, like Norway and Chile, as an ecologically sustainable closed-tank operations that can supply a very well educated and very selective market along the west coast of the U.S.

 

Jon Steinman: I asked Jay whether these closed tank systems have been proven to be feasible?

 

Jay Ritchlin: There's a combination of things that make us believe this is a feasible operation. For one thing, we do have the entrepreneurs putting forward proposals to put businesses in operation and make them go. There have been trail runs that have showed the technology is very, very good for growing fish. It has benefits to industry because the industry suffers from the transfer of diseases between wild and farmed: sometimes the diseases come into their pens, or the algae blooms come into their pens and they wipe out an entire pen of stock. That's a lot of money! So these kind of things are a benefit; I think that there's also a lot of theoretical modeling that shows it is possible to construct a closed system that is financially viable. We are actively supporting efforts right now to get real demonstration projects up and running. A lot of people have said that it's not possible and can't be done, and we did some work with an economist from UCLA and a few other people with economic training in fisheries economics, show that those studies that have been used to do that have some fatal flaws and aren't really usable as a dismissal of the potential of closed tank systems. So, I think the combination of no one has proven that it can't be done and there are lots of people showing how it can be done both on the ground and theoretically.

 

Jon Steinman: You can find out more about the David Suzuki Foundation at www.davidsuzuki.org.

 

As is the case, government involvement in the salmon farming industry certainly appears to be questionable. To give the provincial government some credit, they recently announced the formation of a special committee to examine the economic and environmental impact of the aquaculture industry here in B.C. This committee will be led by the NDP opposition critic on fisheries - Robin Austin. I asked Jay Ritchlin whether he sees the creation of this committee as an important step, and he indicated that he was “cautiously optimistic” given the facts have been laid out for some time now, yet the debate just seems to continue.

 

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As was mentioned earlier in the show, we as the public are becoming more and more aware of the issues surrounding the salmon farming industry, so much so that a recent poll conducted on behalf of the Living Oceans Society found that 80% of British Columbians surveyed want the B.C. government to stop investing in open-net cage salmon farming and start investing in closed containment.

 

To further discuss the results of this poll, I spoke with Catherine Stewart. Catherine is the Chair of the Living Oceans Society - a non-profit research and public education organization that promotes the need for a healthy ocean and healthy communities on Canada's Pacific Coast. Catherine has been involved in the environmental movement for 20 years and, for 17 of those years, Catherine has also been involved with Greenpeace Canada.

 

It was announced on January 12th that Marine Harvest Canada and the nine member groups of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform have agreed on a “framework for dialogue.” This has been seen as the first step in bringing the two sides of the debate together. As the Living Oceans Society is one of the members of the Coastal Alliance, I asked Catherine, who joined me over the phone from Vancouver, to explain why this dialogue was created.

 

Catherine Stewart: The member groups of the Alliance have been working for years to try and bring about policy change in Canada around how we manage the aquaculture industry and, as we've just discussed, to little effect. Both levels of government are strong proponents of open-net cage salmon farming, and so we felt, the member groups felt, that dialogue directly with the industry might have a greater chance of success in facilitating change. The debate was so polarized. We feel that the science proves that there's a strong link between the fish farms and the sea lice infections of wild salmon, that there's a host of evidences of the ecological impacts of the open-net cage industry. But, nonetheless, both industry and government continue to counter with their own science which has not been peer reviewed and isn't regarded as highly credible, but it does maintain that polarized position, and I think that the debate was rather stuck. The public certainly supports the position of the environmental groups that there's change necessary, but no change was taking place. So we felt that perhaps in engaging in dialogue with one of the major companies on the coast, if we could make some progress through that by lateral dialogue, it might open the door to some changes.

 

Jon Steinman: Catherine further explains the goals that CAAR hopes to achieve through this dialogue with Marine Harvest.

 

 

Catherine Stewart: One of the things that we've agreed to with the industry is some collaborative science. We'll agree on the terms of reference and methodology and the scientists to undertake the research, and that both parties will accept the outcomes of that science, so there will be a focus, obviously, on the causal links between fish farms and sea lice, and we believe that if the evidence indicates what we think it will, that that causal link exists, that the industry will then be forced to deal with that reality and that we can help to broker some change. And in addition we've had discussions with Marine Harvest about several areas of research also looking into the economic viability of closed containment and, again, if it can be proven to be economically viable and the technology is workable, then the company has committed they will start incorporating closed containment technology into their operations. So if an industry leader takes those steps, then we would have proof of model and hopefully that would be followed by some possible policy change at a governmental level, but also the rest of the industry is starting to embrace change and starting to make shifts in practices.

 

Jon Steinman: As has been discussed already on the show, the industry is presently operating in such a fashion that is damaging to B.C.'s coastal environment. With the immediacy of action that seems to be required to deal with this, I asked Catherine to explain whether the government has become involved with this dialogue.

 

Catherine Stewart: The province actually did weigh in in the latter stages of our negotiations with Marine Harvest and agreed to help facilitate moving the fish out of the cages at Glacier Falls. And Glacier Falls is a farm in the Broughton Archipelago that is right on one of the major out-migration routes for the juvenile salmon and, as such, is just a perfect breeding ground for sea lice which threatens the survival of the wild salmon stocks. So as part of the agreement Marine Harvest agreed to empty that farm of fish, and the government helped to facilitate that move by contributing toward the cost.

 

Jon Steinman: Catherine explains whether the other major companies in the industry are interested in participating in this critical step taking place between the two sides of the salmon farming debate.

 

Catherine Stewart: CAAR did approach one of the other operators on the coast before we started these negotiations with Marine Harvest and were roundly rebuffed. They weren't interested in talking, at all. So we do have to give due credit to Marine Harvest for assuming a leadership role in this and being willing to engage in the dialogue.

 

Jon Steinman: And here on Deconstructing Dinner we're hearing from Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society as we speak about the recent framework for dialogue announced between Marine Harvest Canada and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, also known as CAAR. But given any results coming from this dialogue may not be seen for some time, CAAR continues to promote awareness of the salmon farming industry. For those in the Vancouver or Victoria area, you may have been witness to a recent campaign exposing Safeway's support for open-net salmon farming. Catherine sheds some light on the campaign.

 

Catherine Stewart: The November ad campaign in the Lower Mainland was a continuation of a campaign that Living Oceans and the other member groups of CAAR launched about two years ago targeting Safeway. We started in there with ads and consumer outreach in their major markets in California, for example, also with ads in the New York Times. And, in addition, the campaign was targeting Safeway consumers and the general public with information about the dangers of salmon farms, conveying the information that they're aware of the price - that farmed salmon is cheap - but are they aware of the cost, and trying to explain what the ecological costs of this product are, and also some of the health risks involved in consuming large quantities of farmed salmon. So that's been ongoing for the last couple of years and we feel that there has been a real response from consumers and that they are becoming increasingly aware of the risks of consuming farmed salmon that's raised in open-net cage traditional technology

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society. For more information on the Safeway campaign or to take a look at the press release announcing the dialogue taking place between Marine Harvest and CAAR, you can visit www.livingoceans.org or www.farmedanddangerous.org.

 

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Continuing on the topic of this recent announcement between Marine Harvest and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, it is of course important to also hear from Marine Harvest themselves. Marine Harvest is the largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. The company is headquartered in both Norway and the Netherlands - a result from the recent merger between Stolt Sea Farms and Nutreco Holdings. The company has operations in 8 different countries around the world and their products can be found in over 70 countries. Marine Harvest's Canadian operation is headquartered in Campbell River, British Columbia, and I spoke with Clare Backman, a spokesperson for Marine Harvest Canada. I asked Clare why this dialogue was initiated.

 

Clare Backman: Well, the framework was the result of close to two years of negotiation and discussion that we entered into with the CAAR member groups beginning in 2004. I guess it was around that time that both ourselves and CAAR realized that the position we found ourselves in, of polarized opinions about some of the aspects involved with aquaculture in British Columbia wasn't really serving the interests of ours and the folks in B.C. Bottom line was that we discovered through the two years that we did have a fair amount in common in terms of commitment to environmental sustainability, we had a lot in common in we were very committed to what we want to do, and we had a lot in common to find solutions to these situations. So, to roll it up, I'd say we both discovered we wanted to reduce the conflict and find solutions and so we landed on an agreement for dialogue.

 

Jon Steinman: As I also posed the question to Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society, a member of CAAR, I also asked Clare what goals Marine Harvest hopes to achieve from this dialogue.

 

Clare Backman: To find a forum, if you will, into which we could actually have meaningful conversation and communication. Oddly enough that has been lacking between our two groups and, I think, it was also, the goal was to reduce the polarized language that was being used; the goal was to learn more about each other's interests, rather than to speculate on each other's interests; and to look for those areas of overlap where we could actually agree were common areas. And we've found some of those. We're committed to bringing forward some very substantial outcomes from this process.

 

Jon Steinman: Given the wealth of research that has been conducted and that has been discussed on today's show, there is plenty of evidence indicating the industry is having negative impacts on the coastal environment of British Columbia. I asked Clare if this research has been an impetus for Marine Harvest's involvement in the dialogue with CAAR.

 

Clare Backman: I'd be remiss if I said that the public debate around some of the research wasn't involved in our decision to engage in the dialogue. I think what we felt though was there's a lot of research that's been done around aquaculture, and not a lot of it is interesting enough or perhaps timely enough or controversial enough to be captured in the public arena, but recently some of the conflict-based literature has been. What we wanted to ensure through this dialogue was that we move away from that kind of conflict and we enter into an area of collaborative research. We've actually landed on several projects that we would like to develop terms of reference around and to carry forward, actually working together to find the solutions and try and pattern a new way of moving forward.

 

Jon Steinman: That was Clare Backman of Marine Harvest Canada speaking to us regarding the recent agreement to sit down with the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform and make attempts at alleviating the polarization between the two sides of the salmon farming debate.

 

Having had only one guest on today's show from either industry or government, there has of course been an imbalance of opinion on today's show. In future broadcasts of Deconstructing Dinner on the topic of salmon farming, it will be important to hear more from industry and government and what their stance is.

 

But given the salmon farming industry is represented by the B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association, who maintain that one of their objectives is public education and awareness, I browsed through their list of resources located on their website that are there for the public to refer to. As Clare Backman mentioned, most of the research that makes its way into the media is conflict-based research, so given the B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association mentions on their main page that they are the voice of the province's environmentally sustainable salmon farming industry, I thought it safe to assume that there would be a wealth of environmental-related resources to refer to that were perhaps not conflict-based.

 

In one case on the BCSFA website, they attack Alexandra Morton's allegations of declining wild salmon populations. The association then refers the public to two published papers that can be found in peer-reviewed journals. One of these is entitled “Sea Lice on Adult Pacific Salmon in the Coastal Waters of Central British Columbia.” The paper refers to sea lice on adult salmon which, as has been mentioned on today's broadcast, is not the issue.

 

I asked Alexandra Morton to respond to this paper, and she laughed. And I quote her response, “No one has an issue with sea lice on adult salmon. There has been no problem reported on sea lice on adult salmon. These adult salmon got sea lice out at sea, which is the completely normal biology of the sea louse; this is a red herring, those fish had not even been past the Broughton salmon farms when they were caught, it has nothing to do with the dynamic of young salmon moving west from the inner Broughton past all the farms out to sea.” End quote.

 

I took a further browse through the Salmon Farmers' Association website, and came across their section entitled Studies and Publications. One of the subsections on the website is entitled Environmental Protection - the key issue to say the least. I expected a wealth of reports and information but found only one reference to an article released in 2003 entitled “Relaxing Perspectives: The Environmental Impact of Salmon Farms.” This article examines eight of the more frequent accusations against the industry, many of which have been discussed on this show, and more or less this article debunks them. The authors of this article are Hugh Mitchell, Jim Brackett, and Brad Hicks. Now given there is no mention of who these authors are, I conducted my own research and found out this: that Jim Brackett is the General Manager of Vancouver-based Syndel International Incorporated, which has been at the forefront of developing aquaculture chemicals and pharmaceutical products for the industry. The second author, Brad Hicks, is the Vice-President of North Vancouver-based Taplow Feeds, a manufacturer of feed products for the aquaculture industry. And the third author, Hugh Mitchell, is the Manager of Professional Services for the Aqua Health division of Novartis - a producer of vaccines and medications for the industry.

 

Could there perhaps be a conflict of interest when the B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association is solely resorting to the opinion of these three authors to dismiss claims against the industry? You can check out www.salmonfarmers.org and decide for yourself.

 

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It will commonly be mentioned on Deconstructing Dinner that these industrial forms of agriculture and aquaculture that are driving our food supply are still in their infancy and can still very much be considered an experiment. Taking a look at the history of science itself, you would be hard-pressed to find scientific proof that has not later been disproved. So if there is something we can learn from the incredible impact that these misguided approaches to food production have had on ourselves, we can take a look at the Newfoundland cod stock collapse not long ago. By the time our government acknowledged something was wrong, it was already too late.

 

I'll leave you with two excerpts from my interviews.

 

Alexandra Morton: I personally feel there's a deal that's been made somewhere back in the 80s, and all the politicians are dealing with it right now.

 

Catherine Stewart: People forget that all of the things they love about coastal British Columbia is the eagles, the whales, the bears, the ancient forests are all resting on a foundation of wild salmon. The salmon provide nutrients to all those species and to that ecosystem as a whole, and if we lose the wild salmon we're going to start to see that ecosystem chain unravel. So it's really critical that consumers get active and encourage chains, like Safeway, to be pro-active in demanding a sustainably produced product.

 

ending theme

 

Jon Steinman: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant tonight Dianne Matenko. All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers, and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations. For more information on the station or to become a member, you can visit www.cjly.net, and should you have any comments about tonight's show, want to learn more about topics covered, you can visit the website for Deconstructing Dinner at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

Till next week…

 


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