PORT McNEILL—With delivery of its first cohort of salmon smolt just days away, the ‘Namgis First Nation’s land-based fish farm received a boost last week with the release of a report by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
The Closed Containment Salmon Aquaculture Report, the first of its kind to specifically address closed containment aquaculture systems, forwarded a series of recommendations to the Federal Government that included funding for and further studies and research of projects like the K’udas Project, located on ‘Namgis territory just south of Port McNeill.
“The government’s standing committee has determined closed containment aquaculture is possible, and it’s hard not to agree when you’re standing in fromt of the first commercial operation in country,” said Jackie Hildering, who was, indeed, standing in front of the ‘Namgis facility while guiding a tour of students from the school district’s Connections program.
Construction at the site is largely complete, and the first cohort of atlantic salmon smolt could be delivered as soon as next week.
“The North Island collectively, and the ‘Namgis specifically, are to be proud this is in our back yard,” said Hildering, the project’s community liason. “We’re being watched nationally and internationally for the success of this project.”
The committee’s recommendations call on the Government of Canada to
• Study the socio-economic impacts of a possible transition to closed-containment technologies;
• Facilitate funding of research and development of sustainable closed-containment technologies;
• Ensure resources are made available to close the gap between demonstration and commercialization — including consideration of a dedicated fund for closed containment projects;
• Work with rural, coastal and First Nations communities to encourage economic growth through the development of aquaculture;
• Develop a national policy and regulatory framework for aquaculture, including an aquaculture act; and
• With the support of industry, establish a Canadian centre of excellence for salmon aquaculture development at a university, to study all aspects of salmon aquaculture development.
“It affirms a great deal of what motivated the ‘Namgis, Tides Canada and Save Our Salmon,” Hildering said. “It recognizes the social, environmental and economic benefits of closed-containment aquaculture, and it acknowledges further resources are needed.”
The committee’s last aquaculture study was undertaken between 1999 and 2003, and produced an 83-page report with a single recommendation on closed-containment. The current report is entirely on land-based aquaculture, indicating the speed and scope of research and developement in the past decade.
Proponents of closed-containment technology — including recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) like that of the entirely land-based K’udas project — testified it reduces the risks of open net-pen systems while also preventing escapement, cross-contamination of wild salmon stocks and other damage to the marine ecosystem.
The committee fell short of condemning the effects of ocean-based aquaculture, noting a number of the recommendations in its 2003 report have since been adopted by the aquaculture industry. It also pointed out disagreement remains among industry officials and scientists over the impacts of open net-pen fish-farming on wild stocks and the environment.
“While the committee’s report offers some positive recommendations for future funding of closed containment, we are alarmed by the lack of attention paid to the environmental impacts of open-net farming and finding solutions to those impacts,” said Sue Scott of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Closed-containment systems are currently used profitably at commercial scale for tilapia, sturgeon, arctic char and trout, including an RAS facility in Sechelt for sturgeon and RAS farms in B.C., Alberta and Ontario raising tilapia.
There are no commercial-scale facilities raising Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world, though the K’udas project is one of three pilot projects at various stages of construction or planning on Vancouver Island.
While Pacific salmon and other species may be grown commercially at lower volumes, due to niche-market pricing, the sheer volume of Atlantic salmon on the world market, courtesy of open-net pen technology, means any closed-containment system would need to produce 1,000 tonnes annually to be considered commercially viable.
“We’re not dealing with an either-or situation,” said Neil Smith, manager of economic development for the Regional District of Mount Waddington, in his testimony to the committee. “The North Island is very well positioned to maintain open-pen operations. We also need to look at closed containment technologies and their potential for niche sectors in domestic and international markets. From a regional perspective, it’s a good-news story to be exploring all these options without throwing anything out.”
Committee convened 18 meetings between October 2011 and March 2012. Testimony from DFO, scientists, open-net industry, closed-containment industry, Aboriginal groups, environmental, commercial and recreational fishers. Also traveled to U.S. to consult with NOAA and Dept. of Agriculture and in West Virginia toured one of the foremost closed containment aquaculture research facilities in the world to speak with scientists and engineers engaged in the research.