PORT HARDY—In an effort to boost its marketability and assuage the concerns of critics, B.C.’s largest producer of farmed salmon is embarking on an effort to secure a coveted certification from the greenest of environmental stewardship organizations.
Ian Roberts, director of communications for Marine Harvest Canada, spoke to the local chapter of Rotary Club during its meeting last week to update business leaders on his company’s recent achievements and its plans for the future.
Marine Harvest currently possesses a three-star certification in the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices, a distinction that appears on packages of its Sterling brand atlantic salmon.
“The problem is, when you go to the grocery store, what does that logo mean?” Roberts said. “People don’t recognize that logo.”
So Marine Harvest is trying to raise its profile by capturing the panda.
The newest certification — and, perhaps, the most difficult to achieve, according to Roberts — is the Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification, backed by the World Wildlife Federation and its distinctive panda bear logo.
“This was brought together by the WWF — not the wrestlers, but the panda bear,” Roberts told Rotarians. “When we talk about the recognizable logo, the panda bear has influence worldwide. Once you certify to this standard, you will be able to use that panda bear on your product. But it’s very, very strict.”
ASC auditors will arrive here in late April to begin a seven-day audit of one of Marine Harvest’s sites near Port Hardy. It will be the company’s first attempt at the ASC certification, but Roberts said it is merely a beginning.
“We are part of an assembly called GSI, the Global Salmon Initiative,” he said. “Seventy per cent of the world’s companies have basically said we are going to adopt a new level of environmental sustainability, and by that we’re going to be achieving this standard by 2020.
“Which will be difficult; we’re going to have to spend some money and make some changes.”
Among the key requirements for the certification are replacement of nets, a zero-kill policy, limited medical treatment, negligible escapes, social awareness, effluent control and sea-lice treatment.
Without tacitly acknowledging the kinds of environmental degradation alleged by environmental activists opposed to open net-pen salmon farming, Roberts admitted several of those concerns have been addressed by steps taken in recent years by Marine Harvest.
High-density polyethylene netting is replacing copper-dipped nylon nets, which led to copper flakes settling to the sea floor beneath open-net pens. The new nets prevent attacks by predators like sea lions, which, Roberts admitted, had previously been killed by employees to protect the farmed fish.
Marine Harvest has also been introducing protein sources other than fish meal as feed, leading to the company becoming a net fish protein producer beginning in 2010.
The company also achieved a license to utilize a new sea lice treatment at a site near Klemtu. The product, essentially hydrogen peroxide, may ultimately replace the brand-name medication Slice which has historically been used to control infestation.
“When it returns to the water, it’s just water and oxygen,” said Roberts. “It’s a non-medicinal, natural kind of product that we can use now.”
Additional work will be needed for the ASC certification, Roberts said. Marine Harvest will need to address effluent treatment, particularly at its hatchery facilities, and continue to limit its use of antibiotics.