Aquaculture Awareness Week in Campbell River concluded last week with a fish farm tour in Okisollo Channel and a message that salmon farmers have matured and the public “conversation” about the merits of the industry has improved.
“The hard work is starting to pay off,” BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) executive director Mary Ellen Walling said. “The industry has really matured. There is a real commitment to work collaboratively and we are finding ways to communicate that we truly care (about the environment.)”
Walling said a good example of how far the sector has evolved in the past decade is its handling of the IHN virus outbreak this year compared to a similar event several years ago.
“It was like night and day.” she said. “The industry’s response this time was immediate. Bio-security protocols were in place immediately and testing was ramped up. We managed it effectively.”
On a tour of the Marine Harvest Okisollo farm off the northern tip of Quadra Island BCSFA communications manager Colleen Dane said: “A couple of years ago … you would hear a lot more about whether we should be doing this job and if we should be doing aquaculture in British Columbia. I find more and more the conversations we are having now with the pubic is not whether we should be doing aquaculture, but how we can make sure we are doing it in the most responsible way.”
Dane said that is a good thing because there is a pressing need to provide protein to a growing global population and “there are a limited number of wild fish out there and if we want to continue to protect them we need to be able to provide sea food in another way and aquaculture really is the future.”
Mayor Walter Jakeway, who participated in the tour, said: “It’s great to see an industry that’s doing well and has so much potential to grow. We just have to let the bureaucrats get out of the way and let the salmon farmers get on with it.”
Liberal candidate Nick Facey, also on the tour, said: “One of the neat things to see is how low impact these facilities are. It is incredible to see their efficiency, their cleanliness and the sheer volume of salmon they are able to produce. We saw 10 pens with about 60,000 fish in each. That’s more than 500,000 fish (at the Okisollo farm). That’s absolutely incredible and it’s a industry we have to grow in B.C.”
Dane said she is hoping that visitors to farms like Okisollo appreciate “how much care we take when we are farming out there so when they come back and they talk about the economic benefits that the industry provides to these communities they can also feel very confident that it is not at the sacrifice of the environment, that we are doing both very well.”
The economic realities of the sector and its growth potential were a key theme at the association’s AGM. Dr. Roslyn Kunin, Director of the British Columbia Office of the Canada West Foundation, reported that finfish production in B.C. enjoyed annual growth of 10.8 per cent through the 1990s, but less than one per cent annual growth from 2001 to 2010.
The economist also noted that if current growth levels persist the industry will be producing less than 80,000 tonnes of salmon annually by 2020, an increase of only about 10,000 tonnes in eight years. If the industry could grow at the pace of its counterparts in Norway or Chile that harvest could be between 120,000 and 140,000 tonnes annually by 2020.
Currently, salmon farming supports 6,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributes $800 million to the provincial economy annually.