03/14/2012 05:22 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Would You Like Some Sea Lice With Your Salmon?

Why do governments continue to push open-sea cage aquaculture on its citizens, despite growing

opposition from wild salmon conservationists, commercial fisheries groups, environmental

organizations, and tourism operators? Opposition in Norway, Scotland, and on the west coast

of Canada has been strident. Now the east coast of Canada is up in arms over plans for massive

expansion in the Province of Nova Scotia.

With a firm foothold in New Brunswick and Newfoundland, the aquaculture industry is looking for new sites for its salmon feedlots in the form of open cage net pens in the ocean. But Nova Scotians are not giving up their shorelines easily. Fifty-one organizations have called upon the Premier of Nova Scotia to stop such development in favour of closed containment facilities that allow separation of farmed salmon from the environment. They are calling for a moratorium on further licensing approvals until the N.S. government has undertaken a strategic environmental assessment to understand the impact of open net pen salmon farming and has provided solutions to the problems.

Closed containment allows growth of salmon without incident of sea lice or disease and without the use of vaccines, harsh chemicals, antibiotics or vaccines. Water flowing through the systems can be continuously cleaned and returned to tanks and fish waste solids can be controlled and captured. Land-based closed-containment will provide economic development and jobs in coastal communities while protecting the environment.

In Nova Scotia, closed containment would help protect the tourism industry, which is worth $1.4 billion, according to the Tourism Industry Association. It would help protect wild Atlantic salmon and allow programs to restore them a good chance of success. A healthy run of wild salmon is worth millions of dollars to the river's communities. Nova Scotia's Margaree River on Cape Breton Island attracts salmon fishermen from around the world. These anglers spent $2.9 million on the Margaree alone in 2010 and created 73 jobs.

Government investment to restore a wild creature that supports a green industry seems to be much smarter than supporting open sea cage aquaculture. Salmon feedlots create diseases such as infectious salmon anemia (ISA) that when diagnosed, requires killing entire cages of salmon and compensating industry with government dollars.

Closed containment projects for growing salmon are being carried out in British Columbia, the United States, Europe, and China. It is time for government and the east coast aquaculture industry to invest in closed containment. The large profit margin of open cage salmon feedlots comes at the expense of taxpayers and the environment.

The salmon farming industry claims that open net pen salmon farming should be accepted as the norm because it is profitable. The industry contends it puts a lot of money into the economy and produces a lot of jobs. But if the negative impact to the environment and the jobs lost in other industries as the result of this impact were factored in, the picture would be far less rosy and would support a strong case for closed containment facilities. Regulation of open net aquaculture needs to ensure that industry is transparent and pays the full costs of the impacts of their production methods.