Consumers will dictate future face of salmon farming

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Published on June 3, 2014

Dear editor: Why is a conservation organization involved in farming Atlantic salmon? It’s all part of the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s (ASF) mission to conserve wild Atlantic salmon and the health of their environment by separating them from farmed salmon.

Salmon farmers in Canada, France, Denmark and China are getting involved in an expanding closed-containment industry that utilizes water recirculation to grow salmon on land.

It is an admirable goal that is not without challenges, but it can work. Reducing capital costs and achieving a conversion rate that produces a pound of salmon for every pound of feed were among the challenges and progress reports presented at a recent international workshop on closed containment, held at the end of April at ASF’s headquarters near St. Andrews, NB.  

Salmon farming in open sea cages can have significant impacts on wild Atlantic salmon and other ocean creatures. These include lobster killed by chemical treatments to control sea lice and tuna, seals, sharks and eagles that are killed when wildlife is drawn to all the salmon held in ocean cages.

Genetic interaction following escapes weakens the gene pool of wild Atlantic salmon. Research shows that farmed-wild hybrids have higher egg mortality, lower juvenile survival, and lower survival at sea, compared to wild salmon. Over time, these interactions have the potential to wipe out wild salmon populations.

Escapes from sea cages are still happening in large numbers in Canada with 750,000 reported escapes in Newfoundland in the past decade. The Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada, in their advice to government, and the Royal Society of Canada, in their report on biodiversity, have identified salmon aquaculture as a significant threat to endangered and threatened wild salmon populations.

ASF’s co-host at our closed-containment workshop was the Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute (TCFFI) of West Virginia. We are supporting TCFFI’s research to develop the feasibility of freshwater closed-containment salmon farming with very encouraging results.  Recently, the TCFFI put a limited supply of their farmed salmon into the marketplace.  

At a Wegmans store in Maryland, closed-containment salmon, raised in close to 100 per cent recirculated water, with complete capture of waste, were displayed next to sea cage-raised salmon.

At $13 per pound ($4 per pound more than the sea cage salmon), the store’s supply of closed-containment salmon was quickly bought out.

Consumers were willing to pay more for salmon grown in a manner that doesn’t spread disease and sea lice; doesn’t pollute the ocean with chemicals, fish feces and uneaten food, and doesn’t threaten other species. These consumers prefer salmon that have not been treated with antibiotics or chemicals.

We are convinced that ASF and our partners are on the leading edge of a transition to closed containment farms. Entrepreneurs such as the Namgis First Nation on Vancouver Island are beginning to supply consumers with outstandingly flavourful salmon that is receiving rave reviews from chefs and consumers alike. It is only a matter of time before the market demand for this type of sustainable seafood is fully met.

For more information on closed-containment and particulars of the recent workshop at ASF headquarters, visit www.asf.ca.

Bill Taylor, president, Atlantic Salmon Federation