At Kuterra – the pioneering land-based salmon farm near Port McNeill – we understand that the people who depend on salmon aquaculture worry about the future of the open netpen industry. We also understand that Kuterra is being attacked because of those concerns.
The trouble is the attacks are aimed at the wrong target. And they’re misinformed.
First, targetting the land-based industry won’t save open netpen jobs. The opposite can be true, though. Land-based farming can help coastal communities overcome the real threat to salmon aquaculture in BC.
The real threat to current aquaculture jobs and prosperity is what’s happening in BC’s biggest salmon market, the United States, and in the salmon farming industry throughout the world outside BC.
Kuterra was the first and for a while the only land-based salmon farm in North America. Not any more. Now there are others in Canada, and six at last count in the US.
The US is the world’s biggest salmon importer. It buys almost two-thirds of BC’s farmed salmon. Yet, with the US working to become a salmon producer, BC’s biggest market is likely to shrink.
The US is building its own salmon industry using land-based technology. US investors are becoming educated about aquaculture. They’re looking at the track record of Kuterra and the other pioneer commercial pilots, and they’re seeing a strong business case.
So they’re putting their money into land-based farming, investing in $3.5 billion worth of projects in the eastern US alone. One of the US land-based farms under construction in Florida will produce more salmon than all BC’s open netpen farms combined when it’s fully built.
The US is not alone in building a land-based industry. Norway, the world leader in science-based aquaculture, is encouraging the industry by waiving its multi-million dollar licence fees for land-based farms. The Norwegian government and industry are jointly pouring millions of dollars into research for land-based operations. Globally, more than two dozen land-based salmon farms are operating or in the works from Switzerland to China. Meanwhile, open netpen production is stagnant.
Land-based farming is growing because it’s what investors and consumers want.
For investors, the business case offers solid profits based on full operational control and no environmental trouble. For consumers, land-grown salmon meets their growing nutritional and environmental expectations. Added to that, land-based farming avoids fish-welfare issues. A new report from Norway shows massive welfare-related losses in open netpens, while in the US, animal welfare specialists are using land-based farming practices as their standard for fish welfare.
If BC is to compete with the US and the rest of the world, we need to grow our land-based salmon industry. We have a small window in which to do so.
So far there are no US projects on the Pacific Coast. It means BC can start to establish itself as the land-based salmon supplier to all the Pacific Rim, before the US industry has a chance to move further west and try to do the same.
BC has a major headstart over the western US. BC has skilled professionals and industry infrastructure – from fish health professionals to feed producers. It also has the right mix of fresh and salt water, low-cost, GHG-free power, and affordable land. BC also has a strong base of land-based operations expertise, with five land-based fish farms already operating in the province, including Kuterra.
Meanwhile, Kuterra has grown and sold more than 2-million pounds of Atlantic salmon for consumers since 2013. It has pioneered and proven the technology for growing market-sized salmon on land. In the process, it has proven that the technology is good for fish, environmentally safe and uses water, land and power very efficiently.
As a pioneer enterprise, which did R&D on industry-changing technology, Kuterra has exceeded most operational and financial performance expectations. A US investor is currently talking with Kuterra about developing the business beyond its current small-scale commercial pilot.
The ‘Namgis First Nation founded Kuterra because of concerns about the environmental effects of open netpens. ‘Namgis, and most British Columbians, value wild salmon for many reasons and want to protect the coast. BC doesn’t need to set aside large sections of its wild habitat for open netpen farming and risk its wild salmon populations, when the US, BC’s biggest salmon market is turning to land-based farms. BC can build on achievements of the land-based industry, and support the creation of a new, sustainable tax base for coastal communities with aquaculture jobs for the future. It’s what hard-working British Columbians deserve.
Jobs and benefits follow where industry leads, and the aquaculture industry is leading to land. BC can’t afford to be left behind.
Written by Donald Svanvik, Hereditary Chief and Chief Councillor of the ‘Namgis First Nation, and Eric Hobson, Chair, Kuterra GP Inc
* 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.