Election promises about land-based salmon farming are nonsense

Atlantic salmon farmers have one word for the Liberal Party and Green Party election promises to move all ocean-based salmon farms in British Columbia to land-based closed containment systems by 2025: Nonsense.

The lack of knowledge behind these election promises is quite astonishing, especially from two parties that claim to be serious about taking action on climate change. Even if it were possible to move all ocean-based farms to land by 2025 (which it’s not because the technology does not exist on that scale), such a move would bring significant environmental, fish health welfare concerns and devastating socio-economic damage in rural coastal communities.

Our salmon farmers are experts in closed containment because their fish spend more than half their lives in land-based hatcheries where water recirculation systems are used. Land-based technology continues to evolve (salmon farmers are the ones driving that innovation!), but at this point, the evidence is clear: the ocean is the best place for that final stage for salmon to grow from smolts to market size – just as they do in nature. Those who advocate moving all salmon farms from the ocean onto land need to realize that the practice of growing salmon to full maturity in tanks poses very real challenges. To grow salmon to market size and meet the global demand would require massive amounts of land, water and energy. And most importantly there are animal welfare considerations.

 Just a few statistics to consider:

ENERGY

  • 2 billion kgs of salmon (world production) grown on land-based farms would produce 526 billion kgs greenhouse gas emissions

  • Growing the global supply of salmon on land would require the same amount of energy per year needed to power a city of 1.2 million people

WATER AND LAND USE

  • Growing 75,000 MT of salmon (British Columbia’s average production) grown at 18kg/m3 in a 99% RAS system would require 4.16 billion litres of freshwater just to fill the tanks.

  • 10 day required depuration period before harvest would require an additional 998 billion litres of freshwater

  • The current production in Canada alone would require 28,000 Canadian football fields, 33,719 acres, or 159 square kilometers of land to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems.

  • Freshwater is our most important resource – do we really want to move a sustainable sea base industry to land and increase demand on our freshwater resources? Goal Six of the United Nations Sustainability Goals speaks to the conservation of freshwater and ensuring access to freshwater globally. When you can grow salmon sustainable at sea, moving to land and using more of our freshwater resources is irresponsible.

FISH WELFARE

  • Marine farms: density of 15 - 25kg of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. Land based farms: density of 50 - 80kg of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. That makes for really crowded land-based tanks.

  • Marine based salmon farming allows salmon to remain in their natural environment. This is where they belong for the end of their grow out, not in land based artificial fish factories.

  • Land based facilities do not eliminate environmental or disease concerns. Pathogens in land-based systems have caused the loss of all fish in some facilities.

SOCIO ECONOMIC REALITIES

  • Some small-scale land-based farms are producing fully-grown salmon for niche markets, and the reality is, the largest of these produces only 300MT per year. By comparison, Canada produces on average 108,000MT per year.

  • Land based indoor salmon farms are more than three times as expensive to operate as traditional ocean salmon farms.

  • Increased use of land-based farms would encourage the relocation of production closer to the main markets. This would have a major socio-economic impact on coastal communities around the world.

Atlantic salmon is one of the most energy efficient farmed animals; its carbon footprint is far smaller than other protein production methods (i.e. beef, chicken, pork, sheep) even when you consider that seafood is transported over longer distances to market than other proteins. Decades of peer-reviewed research show that salmon farms have little long-term impact on the marine environment. Salmon farmed in the ocean is a top food choice for those who are concerned about climate change and want to reduce their environmental impact.

These election promises amount to nothing more than an attempt to pander for votes to a vocal minority who oppose salmon farming in British Columbia. Here on the east coast, the majority of Atlantic Canadians support salmon farming; consumer polling consistently shows over 80 per cent support for salmon farming. We know that salmon farming is a responsible, sustainable and innovative means to provide adequate food supply to meet the world’s population growth while helping to reduce the pressure on wild fish stocks. The Atlantic coast’s abundant natural ocean environment makes it one of the best locations in the world to farm fish, especially Atlantic salmon, in an environmentally sustainable way.

We are calling on all federal election candidates to stand up for Canada’s salmon farming industry by publicly rejecting these campaign promises and acknowledging the important role fish farming plays in our coastal communities. Salmon farming is one of our best hopes to bring more prosperity to the Atlantic coast while sustainably growing healthy seafood. Fish farming represents one of our region’s brightest sectors.

We await your answer before we cast our votes.

Susan Farquharson
Executive Director
Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association