The salmon farming industry has long been banned in Alaska, where it's believed to be a threat to the state's healthy wild salmon populations.
But that's not the case in Canada, where Norwegian-owned aquaculture multinationals have done a terrific job of winning over the federal government.
These controversial corporate citizens are largely to blame for the gradual dying out of Canada's most famed fish. So says the Canadian scientist, TV personality, and leading environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki.
During the Harper administration, Suzuki bluntly referred to the federal government as "corporate cheerleaders" for the aquaculture industry in a conversation with this article's author. And nothing has really changed since the swearing-in of Canada's new Liberal government.
It's hard to argue that Dr. Suzuki is wrong, especially since Canada's federal government and its B.C. provincial counterpart actively promote salmon farming. They even go so far as to use Canadian taxpayers' dollars to subsidize the business operations of Norwegian-owned fish farms in B.C.
This unholy alliance may help explain why it's still legal for salmon farms to unintentionally become ambush sites for juvenile salmon migrating out to the open ocean.
By way of explanation many open-net pens are located directly within the narrow aquatic pathways used by these wild salmon. This exposes passing wild salmon to devastating lethal threats -- ones they've historically never encountered before.
First, these unnecessarily close encounters can infect wild salmon with exotic diseases that overwhelm their immune systems, leading to a slow death.
By the federal government's own estimates, a diseased salmon farm containing one million fish can shed as many as 650 billion viral particles an hour. And these deadly pathogens become biological booby traps for wild salmon.
Second, these defenceless fish can also be exposed to hoards of blood-sucking, flesh-eating sea lice (see the image above) as they pass by fish farms. Such hazards have been linked by scientists to the unnatural deaths of millions of wild salmon each year.
Even B.C.'s aquaculture industry has grudgingly conceded that sea lice from salmon farms can be harmful to wild populations.
But this multibillion-dollar industry continues to downplay this problem, as well as the ugly implications of contagious disease outbreaks at its 130 or so floating farms.
In fact, there's absolutely nothing to worry about, according to Canada's federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It, too, refuses to acknowledge that infestations of sea lice originating from open-net pens play any significant role in the demise of wild salmon.
In spite of this, some of Canada's most iconic salmon runs have been decimated in recent years while Canadian politicians look the other way. In fact, as few as 15 per cent of the predicted numbers of salmon returned to their spawning grounds in 2009. And some subsequent years have been nearly as dismal.
As recently as 2015, there was even a ban on commercial and recreational fishing on Vancouver's Fraser River due to alarming low salmon numbers.
Such realities attest to the fact that this river's once-prolific sockeye numbers have for the past two decades experienced a sustained decline.
Canada's federal government and the B.C. provincial government have largely ignored the inquiry's 75 recommendations for change.
Notably, the beginning of this precipitous downward trend coincided with an ominous development: It was the introduction in the early 90s of large-scale salmon farming to the migratory coastal routes used by wild Fraser River salmon. So says internationally-acclaimed salmon biologist Alexandra Morton.
The gradual disappearance of so many sockeye from the Fraser River eventually led to a three-year federal government judicial inquiry. Known as the Cohen Commission, this $25 million investigation involved several months of hearings in 2011, involving testimony from 179 salmon experts and stakeholders. It subsequently involved the assessment of three million pages of evidence.
A final 1,000-page report was published in late 2012 by Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, the head of the inquiry. It conceded that salmon farms may indeed be playing a role in the wild species' crisis. And it asked for a freeze on any new salmon farming operations along the migratory routes of wild salmon until 2020.
Commissioner Cohen's chilling reasoning for his request for a moratorium on increasing the salmon farming industry's footprint in an ecologically sensitive waterway was explained as follows:
"I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed by salmon farms to Fraser River sockeye salmon is serious or irreversible."
Cohen also joined Dr. Suzuki in questioning the loyalties of the federal government.
Cohen concluded, "As long as [the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada] has a mandate to promote salmon farming, there is a risk that it will act in a manner that favours the interests of the salmon farming industry over the health of wild fish stocks."
As of early 2016, Canada's federal government and the B.C. provincial government have largely ignored the inquiry's 75 recommendations for change.
Will our new government choose to act on Cohen's findings? Will Justin Trudeau's commitment to greater environmental stewardship lead to more protection for our wild salmon? Only time will tell.
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With fish stocks rapidly depleting in the oceans, the industry of fish farming has continued to grow in response. In 2006, Americans ate an average of 16.5 pounds of fish per person, surpassed only by Japan and China. That same year, fish farming accounted for 47% of the world’s fish food supply.
Large-scale fish farm operations force fish to live in conditions much more crowded than they would in the wild, sometimes leaving each fish less room than an average bathtub. The excess of fish waste and unconsumed feed pollutes the surrounding waters. Additionally, living in such close proximity gives rise to increased disease and infection, which is usually responded to withc antibiotics, further polluting the surrounding environment.
Many of the chemicals banned in the US are still used in international fish farms for disease and parasite control. Due to a lack of regulation, these chemicals make their way to our dinner table through the large amount of fish we import from other countries.
Many fish farms operate with netpens in open waters. These systems are extremely susceptible to being ripped open from predators or storms. When the fish escape, they cause irreparable harm to the local ecosystems, corrupting gene pools, competing for food sources and breeding territories, and spreading disease.
Tilapia are one of the most environmentally friendly fish to farm. They are herbivores, so they don’t require the mass amounts of fish byproduct that carnivores do. In addition, they can be farmed in large tanks rather than outdoor pools, making them much more accessible for aquaculture.
Shrimp farming is one of the most destructive types of aquaculture. Mangrove forests protect coastlines, provide food and shelter to countless wildlife, and supply multiple resources to impoverished coastal people who rely on them for daily sustenance. Unfortunately, they also occupy many ideal locations for shrimp farming, and are uprooted and destroyed as a result. In addition, shrimp farmers are often quick to abandon the locations and move to new ones for better production results, destroying more mangroves along the way. Shrimp farms also raise the salinity of surrounding water and soil, ruining the land for agriculture.
Some carnivorous species, like salmon, can be very high maintenance to farm, requiring much more food than they produce. For every 1 lb. of farmed salmon, 2 to 5 lbs. of smaller fish are needed to feed it.
Bivalves, such as oysters and mussels, rank highest when it comes to environmentally friendly aquaculture. Because they are filter feeders, they actually make the water in their ecosystem cleaner, and due to their lack of mobility, they are much easier to contain than fish.
Recirculating Aquaculture Systems are the most eco-friendly. The ultimate water use is minimal, and they have the least environmentally hazardous waste removal methods. Developing aquaculture farming systems in tandem with agriculture is becoming a more popular environmentally-friendly option, as well. When done right, the systems produce very little waste, as they benefit from each other’s byproducts. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, which can in turn filter the water and provide needed nutrients back to the fish. Rice farmers in Asia have long farmed fish alongside their crops, using certain species of fish to fight pests that harm their rice paddies.
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