Posted by: Rob | April 27, 2008

Fish Farming – Good idea or bad?

The Globe and Mail’s edition for Saturday, April 26, 2008 contained an article detailing one side of the west coast fish farming debate focusing on the rampant spread of sea lice from the salmon pens to the wild salmon stocks and the disastrous effect this has had on wild salmon populations. I say one side of the debate because, like any controversial issue, there are always at least two sides to the story and, typically, money in the middle.

According to the article, wild Atlantic salmon stocks in the Atlantic Ocean are, for all intents and purposes, totally depleted, that is, there are no wild Atlantic salmon in the Atlantic. However, the species is thriving, if you can call it that, in the fish farms on the west coast of British Columbia. But at what cost?

The media has previously carried stories describing the failed fish farming ventures in Norway and the British Isles. The net result has been that fish farming – with the fish pens set out in what are essentially wild waters – has wreaked environmental insult upon the waters and been harmful to native populations of fish and other undersea creatures having the misfortune to be proximate to the fish pens. And yet, in spite of this knowledge, the Fisheries and Oceans ministry of the Government of Canada has allowed for the proliferation of fish farms under the same model along Canada’s west coast.

I’d never heard of sea lice before. Reading about them in the linked article prompts little else but disgust and nausea. I wonder why, given what has been learned about the deleterious effects of coastal fish farming in other countries, Canada figured it could do any better or be any different. The usual economic arguments come up, of course, with jobs being the big one. But the article reveals that there few jobs, in comparison to the recreational salmon fishing industry, in fish farming and that, thanks to automation, these are becoming fewer. The authors also revealed that the majority of the fish farms are foreign-owned. These owners, in Norway, are the ones reaping the majority of the economic benefit and not local or even simply Canadian owners. So, we passively sit by while foreign companies pollute our coastal waters, cause destruction of our wild salmon stocks and extract all of the profits. And for what?

I had already quit buying any farmed salmon years ago after health reports indicated there were higher levels of persistent organic pollutants and other toxic nasties in these fish. The preferred alternative, naturally, is wild salmon. But we can never be all too sure that wild salmon is any better in terms of toxic things that we don’t really want to be ingesting. It may be a moot point anyways. Unless the Government of Canada is shamed, or otherwise convinced, into taking action on the fish farms to ensure they have zero negative impact on the coastal waterways and the creatures that inhabit them, there may eventually be no wild salmon at all.

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