by Ruth Salmon
For years, environmental activists have done their best to scare Canadians into thinking fish farms would “decimate” wild salmon stocks. Savvy campaigns have employed a range of media stunts, such as dumping farmed fish at the door of an aquaculture company, marching to the legislature en-masse, hassling customers in front of retailers wearing salmon costumes… you get the picture.
The campaign has been effective from a PR perspective, but what about the dire predictions? Has the foreboding prophecy that sea lice from salmon farms would wipe out entire runs of wild salmon come true?
If you’ve been anywhere near a TV, newspaper or radio lately, you’ll know that 25 million Fraser River sockeye salmon are returning to spawn — the largest return in 100 years. The good news of healthy wild salmon stocks actually began last year, and extends to both Canadian coasts. Here is the recap:
- Last year, abundant record pink salmon returns in B.C. led to the opening of a commercial fishery.
- This year, the Pacific Salmon Commission estimates more than 30 million Fraser River sockeye will return — the largest run in nearly 100 years.
- According to the Atlantic Salmon Federation, this year’s wild salmon returns in both Atlantic Canada and Quebec are breaking records — with some rivers experiencing the largest returns in decades.
Clearly, the salmon farming industry and commercial fishery can coexist. That’s good news, because pressure on the world’s oceans is increasing. The United Nations predicts global demand for seafood will increase 40 million tonnes by 2030, and a joint Food & Health Organization/World Health Organization report clearly outlines the negative heart and brain health implications of not eating enough seafood. The report stresses that eating fish lowers the risk of death from heart disease, and that eating fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding lowers the risk of poor brain development in babies. The Public Library of Science ranked low seafood intake as the second-largest cause of diet-related deaths in America, just behind high salt consumption.
In a nutshell, we’ll need all the seafood we can get and the output of most wild fisheries is either holding steady or declining. Increasingly, aquaculture is making up the shortfall.
As a “heritage” industry, commercial fishing has an established place in the collective psyche of Canadians. Lesser known, however, is aquaculture’s annual $2.1-billion contribution to the national economy and its provision of full-time jobs. Canada farms more than a dozen species of finfish and shellfish in every province plus the Yukon, and our farmed seafood is available fresh, year-round.
We’ve got historically high wild salmon returns and an aquaculture industry that can’t keep up with growing demand for its products. Looking at the big picture, those two factors point to an opportunity: Canada could emerge as an international model for balancing the two sectors.
The collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery is infamous. But we’ve learned from our mistakes, and there’s a growing awareness among all stakeholders — commercial and sport fishermen, finfish and shellfish farmers, First Nations, forestry companies, mining companies, government and the general public — that our wild salmon are a precious resource.
Canada’s healthy wild fish stocks are great news. It’s time to put the tired salmon farming debate behind us. Let’s work together to protect our oceans from the real environmental threats.
Ruth Salmon is executive director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. www.aquaculture.ca