A major aquaculture company says that a new investment at one of its operations is proof that the industry has a future in B.C.’s coastal waters at a time when fish farming is coming under increased scrutiny.
Grieg Seafood BC showed Black Press around a new barge at its Noo-la fish farm, located in Clio Channel, northwest of Vancouver Island, during an Oct. 26 tour. The barge – which includes accommodations for workers and various industrial aquaculture facilities – is the second built by the company in as many years.
“We’ve just built two $2 million feed barges,” said Rocky Boschman, managing director of Grieg Seafood BC, which is part of the Norwegian multinational Grieg Group. “We do that because we believe there’s a place for us here on a long term.”
The barge includes a remote feeding system with underwater video cameras that allow technicians to observe fish behavior and adjust the flow of food accordingly.
“Fish, when they’re not hungry, they tend to school,” Boschman said, pointing to a screen that showed hundreds of fish moving in a chaotic pattern. “Those fish are all hunting.”
Environmental monitoring manager Bogdan Vornicu also noted that microscopes on the Noo-la barge are connected to the Internet, so that biologists can examine samples of materials such as plankton remotely.
The company is trying to position itself as a leader in “precision farming,” with instruments tracking oxygen levels in the water and other data, said Boschman. The goal is to predict ocean dynamics.
“[The sensors] are all feeding into a common database,” he said.
Boschman hailed the barge as an example of aquaculture investing in local business in Campbell River, where the B.C. subsidiary of Grieg Group has its headquarters. He produced a list of some 22 vendors from the Campbell River area involved in the project, ranging from building contractors to high-tech firms to office services.
“Everywhere possible, we utilize local companies,” he said.
The residential area of the barge includes 12 bedrooms and a shared living area featuring an open-concept kitchen, fireplace and big-screen television.
Workers at the facility – who spend eight days on-site before returning to their homes for six days – seemed impressed with the new accommodations.
“It’s like a resort coming out here,” said one worker, a Campbell River resident in his 20s who declined to provide his name.
The company was showcasing its investments as the provincial government imposes new regulations on a controversial industry.
Starting in 2022, fish farm operators must have the consent of First Nations whose territories they’re operating in. The Grieg facilities in Clio Channel are the result of a partnership with Tlowitsis Nation, whose traditional territories include waters in the Georgia Strait from Telegraph Cove to just west of Sayward.
Boschman said the aquaculture industry is working hard to develop positive relationships with First Nations, although he said that formal agreements aren’t in place for all Grieg operations.
“We absolutely recognize that they are the right holders,” he said. “We look forward to learning and growing and making these relationships even stronger.”
John Smith, the elected chief of Tlowitsis Nation, said that rental fees and revenue from fish harvests provide a stable source of funds for the community.
“We’re very pleased with the agreement,” he said, saying the partnership with Grieg is positive. “They do a lot to make our relationship strong and happy.”
Smith said the operation has the support of hereditary chiefs from his community, although he acknowledged that some band members oppose fish farms.
Also under the new regulations, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) will have to vouch that fish farm operators aren’t harming wild salmon.
Critics of the industry have said that fish farms discharge harmful materials into the ocean, spread sea lice and disease among wild fish, and allow Atlantic salmon to escape, posing risks to wild stocks.
And while Boschman objected to the claims of environmentalists who want fish farms removed from B.C. waters, he said the company is also trying to reduce its ecological impact and avoid harming wild fish.
“Grieg Seafood has a responsibility to do this in a way that does not damage wild salmon,” he said.