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LETTER: Don’t let opinions drown out the facts about salmon farming

‘… ocean-based salmon farming is both responsible and critically important’

Dear editor,

Re: Heiltsuk Nation calls for an end to fish farms by Zoe Ducklow

Re: ‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms by Quinn Bender

We were disappointed to read the inaccurate coverage of salmon farming in this publication last week, following an activist press conference in North Vancouver calling for the removal of salmon farms from BC waters.

While covering opponents’ views about salmon farming is to be expected such unbalanced reporting is concerning, especially considering the number of people living in this community with deep connections to this industry.

Unfortunately, what gets lost in such rhetoric is the fact that ocean-based salmon farming is both responsible and critically important, not just for Vancouver Island but for all of BC.

Providing more than 75 per cent of the salmon harvested in the province each year, salmon farms are vital in BC’s sustainable, locally-produced food supply. We produce more than 6.5 million meals every week for Canadians and families around the world, meals rich in healthy protein, fish oils, and other nutrients.

By providing so much sustainably-raised salmon, we contribute to seafood abundance and food security while supporting wild salmon populations by reducing fishing pressure.

In this work, we have a responsibility to work with local First Nations. Our members have agreements with 20 coastal First Nations, collaborating to create shared prosperity and opportunity. We approach these engagements with openness and commitment, and acknowledge that we have more to do.

Salmon farming directly and indirectly supports about 7,000 full-time, year-round jobs in rural and remote Vancouver Island, Central Coast, and Sunshine Coast communities.

In 2019, farmed Atlantic salmon was BC’s top international food export– worth $562 million to the provincial economy. About 60 per cent of our salmon is exported to the US and globally, the remaining 40 per cent feeding Canadians. That’s something to be proud of.

Along with other Canadian farmers and food producers, both the federal and provincial governments declared salmon farming an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic. We take that responsibility seriously. Salmon farmers and processors have implemented strong protocols to ensure their employees remain safe and can continue doing their important work.

What also gets lost in the noise is that BC salmon farmers operate at the highest standards in the world, as certified by independent third-party environmental agencies.

In recent years, there has been extensive research conducted into the decline of wild salmon along BC’s coast. What we have learned from that science is that these iconic species are being impacted by a myriad of complex factors – chief among them warming waters caused by climate change and habitat loss.

Extensive science also indicates salmon farms are not harming the health of wild salmon populations, despite what industry opponents might claim. Industry critics will often point to a virus called PRV as an issue, for example. However, in the decade since the virus was discovered extensive research has been conducted finding the strain found in our waters is different from the one causing fish health issues in the Atlantic and is benign, not harming fish.

Just last year, the DFO’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat reviewed all the science done on PRV, and concluded it poses minimal risk to Fraser River Sockeye.

Spreading distorted information about that doesn’t help anyone.

Certainly there are challenges to manage in salmon farming. That’s true of any food production sector. As a user of our shared oceans, we need to be accountable, and to effectively and responsibly manage those challenges so we can continue producing food, creating jobs, and contributing to the success of coastal communities.

With seven billion people on earth today, set to rise to 10 billion by about 2050, we must farm on both land and in water to feed ourselves.

The A UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization; report The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 found that aquaculture production globally grew 527 per cent between 1990 and 2018.

Today, more than half the fish and seafood humans consume globally is now raised on farms, like ours, and that is set to grow as human demand increases. With shrinking available land-bases for farms and many wild fish species at risk, the organization identified aquaculture as a key means to feed ourselves into the future – responsible, adaptable, and innovative aquaculture, as practiced here in BC.

As British Columbian’s, we are all passionate about wild salmon.

We are ready to get down to productive dialogue, to be constructive and open. A dialogue about how we can continue to responsibly create good jobs, provide healthy, local food, and continue to be environmental stewards. We are ready to act on a future for salmon farming where more opportunity and good food can come to life.

John Paul Fraser,

Executive Director, BC Salmon Farmers Association

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