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Kervin’s Corner: There’s more than one solution to aquaculture, fish farms

“We don’t need to coop up farmed fish to land-based, closed containment farming.”

Closed containment fish farms are too costly.

Look to ‘Namgis First Nation’s Kuterra Limited Partnership. It was one of the first businesses, if the only one, to construct and operate a land-based, closed containment recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) in the North Island region. It’s primary focus is on producing Atlantic salmon.

What was meant to be a model pilot project ended up an increasingly costly business venture. As of March 31, 2017 the company had assets of $3,177,592 while having liabilities of $4,821,805, along with revenues of $2,045,803 as well as a net income of a mere $16,157, according to year end fiscal reports.

That’s not even mentioning other measurable impacts. These closed containment systems need a constant supply of water – coming from the ocean or nearby river – while dumping filtered wastewater back into the environment. However, there is the option of recycling the water. What was thought to be a viable, sustainable alternative to open-water aquaculture has faced too many environmental and economic barriers. It also requires injection of oxygen into the system.

While it’s entirely possible closed containment systems eliminate parasites, the likes of sea lice, or even lower chances of spreading of disease in tanks, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth the cost.

It’s not surprising pilot projects like these – using new technology for closed containment – just don’t work. Simply look to the yearly net profits and we’ll see it’s clearly not benefiting anyone who’s involved in it.

Its energy costs skyrocket and it’s because of a simple reason – the more closed a system the more complex it becomes, thus greater energy costs. It’s energy intensive; meaning that, one way or another there are going to be environmental costs. Even so, managing the waste also can be more of a growing problem. It’s just a matter of whether we’ll directly see the impacts.

In my opinion, I guess it’s acceptable to closed containment advocates for closed containment fish farms to also hurt the environment just so long as we don’t visibly see it. Tuck fish farms away neatly on land and forget about it – that must be the new mantra.

Don’t we think that fish farm protesters would also agree we should reduce energy use and not increase it? After all, these are the same people who are trying to save our environment.

It’s a facade to suggest that it’s minimized environmental consequences are worth the time and effort. Let’s not forget that First Nation bands who apply for these pilot projects – while admittedly bearing the brunt of the costs – do receive government grants to fund it. Why should taxpayers fund failing projects? It’d be a whole different story if it were in fact successful. And yet, we have NDP politicians vowing that this is the solution to aquaculture, even in the face of growing evidence to suggest otherwise.

Let’s be clear – closed containment, wherever it was tried, didn’t size up to the promise it’d be the savior to aquaculture sustainability. Perhaps it’s because the scale of the project doesn’t meet a threshold for profits. In any case, for investors to stay interested they need to see this pilot project was ready to commercialize into larger scales. Of course, small operations like those in our region may never be ready for that.

In the end, closed containment systems are all hype with no substance to show for improvements from its counterpart. Livestock farms are already cheaper in every way, so why should we raise expensive protein products like this if it’s just a drain?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way – let’s talk aquapods.

Aquapods look like giant hamster balls floating freely in the water. They’re typically untethered and located in deeper waters rather than offshore. The fact that they are in the deep, open ocean – while also having the ability to float around – means that immediately surrounding environments are minimally affected, if at all. For example, in stationary, offshore fish farms there may be a build up of waste below the site, but in a free moving aquapod it wouldn’t be the case.

It also reduces overcrowding since the fish can move as if they were in the wild already. Finally, since they move around at will, they’re less likely to interact with wild salmon and their migratory paths. Of course, this could mean that transferring disease to wild salmon may not occur.

These aquapod fish are what innovative, viable farmed fish operations would look like. They’re as wild as the technology allows it be while also still being a farmed product. Similar to how organically raised chickens are grown without use of indoor housing – able to roam freely outdoors in a fenced farm – these aquapod fish are like free-range chickens of the sea. We don’t need to coop up farmed fish to land-based, closed containment farming.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

* The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different view, we encourage you to write to us to contribute to the discussion.

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