Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has submitted the "What We Heard" report to the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) reflecting comments gathered during Phases 1 and 2 of DFO's framework discussion on the future of salmon aquaculture in British Columbia. In their response, salmon farmers have regretted that despite providing "extensive information and data to support the engagement process", the report only reflects the opinions submitted. "It does not assess the accuracy or validity of submissions or distinguish fact from fiction", says BCSFA.
Among the issues that the report reflects but does not analyze are some crucial points for the future of the region, such as, for example, the importance of the sector for rural coastal communities. "Both First Nations and municipal governments expressed the devastation their communities will face if salmon farms are forced from the ocean", states Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
Salmon producers also miss an assessment on other issues raised, such as land-based production. "DFO heard from some stakeholders that land-based salmon farming is the solution. We know this is simply not true", claims Kingzett.
"Vancouver Island and Coastal British Columbia does not have the land nor the green power to support growing salmon on land sustainably, and we are too far from the market for land-based methods to make good business sense", he notes.
To date, the debate raised by DFO about the future of salmon farming in British Columbia has been based primarily on the relationship between fish farms and wild salmon. In its response to the report, the BCSFA asserts that climate change, habitat loss and foreign fishing are really the big issues that need to be addressed to protect Pacific salmon.
"The BC salmon farming sector remains committed to wild salmon stewardship, and we continue to innovate to reduce our environmental footprint while ensuring that we remain a negligible risk to wild salmon", says Kingzett.
Last February, in an exclusive interview with WeAreAquaculture, he already defended this idea. "Ironically, almost everyone in our sector, myself included, considers themselves an environmental activist because we want to take pressure off of wild fish and we want to create sustainable seafood", he said then.
According to BCSFA's response, participants in the consultations reflected in the DFO report urged the federal government to take a holistic approach, consider the implications of the transition plan for coastal communities, First Nations and Canadians in general, and make clear and rational decisions based on sound science.
Moreover, BC salmon farmers also recall that the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship has repeatedly called on the Government of Canada to conduct a rigorous socio-economic assessment of the impacts that the transition of the salmon farming sector would have on their communities.
"Much work is needed to ensure that the input gathered through the transition engagement is appropriately considered in developing a responsible transition plan", insists the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
The BC Salmon Producers Association members represent over 95% of the annual provincial harvest of farm-raised salmon in British Columbia. It includes more than 60 companies and organizations along the fish aquaculture value chain in the area. Farmed salmon is BC's highest-value fish product, the province's leading agricultural export, and generates over $1.2 billion for the BC economy, creating thousands of jobs.