B.C. aquaculture products are already the province’s largest agricultural export by value, and their importance can only grow in the future, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc told an industry conference this week.
Speaking to the 2017 Business of Aquaculture Seafood Summit in Victoria, LeBlanc pledged to continue the federal government’s support for research to make the salmon farming industry more productive and ecologically safe.
Fish and seafood exports from Canada reached a record $6.6 billion in 2016, with exports to 136 countries, but the industry’s global reputation can be threatened by careless incidents such as the recent escape of thousands of Atlantic salmon from a fish farm in Washington state, LeBlanc said. He warned that “sloppy practices” of this kind erode public confidence.
While U.S. salmon farming goes mostly unnoticed, the B.C. industry is under frequent attack from activists who warn of diseases and parasites affecting wild salmon. LeBlanc called on B.C. industry executives to work with Ottawa to create a public database of audits and health inspections, similar to to BarentsWatch in Norway, where ocean-based salmon farming was pioneered 50 years ago.
“The B.C. aquaculture regulatory program has tougher environmental standards than anywhere else in the country, and yet the public perception in many cases does not reflect this very basic reality,” LeBlanc said. “To create better conditions for social licence necessary to grow your business, I think we must collectively improve the transparency and understanding of these safe, healthy practices followed by aquaculture operators.”
An industry analysis presented by accounting firm MNP calculated that from 2013 to 2016, the B.C. salmon industry grew by 37 per cent in output value, by 33 per cent in employment and by almost 40 per cent in revenue to government. LeBlanc said that trend is likely to continue as wild fish stocks diminish and changing ocean conditions put more value on the country’s vast coastal region and cold waters.
Norway’s Ambassador to Canada, Anne Kari Han sen Ovind, also spoke to the conference. She said Norway’s exports of farmed salmon and trout are also growing and the country is working on new technology to increase its environmental safety and efficiency.
Ovind said Norway is launching a new regulatory regime based on the work of former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who led a landmark 1987 study of sustainable development and served as director-general of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003.
Ovind noted that the world’s population is expected to peak at 9.7 billion people by 2050, and greatly expanded aquaculture will be needed to feed everyone. Earth’s surface is 75 per cent water, but is now producing only five per cent of human food, she said.