MP Fin Donnelly proposed a bill to get open-net fish farms, like the one pictured above located in Clayoquot Sound, out of the ocean and onto land. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Fisheries critic MP Fin Donnelly calls for land-based fish farms

Spokesperson for BC Salmon Farming Association says the move would put the industry out of business.

NDP critic for Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, MP Fin Donnelly, toured Vancouver Island in July advocating for wild salmon.

He introduced Bill C-228, which would amend the Fisheries Act by requiring B.C. salmon farms to move from open-net farms to closed containment systems.

“I believe after looking at this for almost 10 years as an elected official, that this is the best solution we have; to move these farms out of the ocean and onto land,” MP Donnelly said at a town hall event in Tofino on July 19.

“I think that’s the way forward. Get these farms out of the ocean. Lower their impact on wild salmon and still keep the jobs.”

Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for BC Salmon Farmers Association, said moving fish farms on land is just not feasible in B.C.

“Mandating a move to land-based aquaculture would effectively be legislating the industry out of business. You’d put thousands of people on Vancouver Island out of work and remove a key economic and community builder in communities including Tofino,” Hall said in a phone interview with Black Press Media.

It has been widely reported that wild salmon exposed to open-net fish farms are more likely to pick up infectious disease, such as sea lice and piscine reovirus (PRV). Research conducted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) shows that PRV was first detected on the West Coast of Canada in 2011 from farmed Chinook salmon.

Some studies suggest that PRV is associated with Heart and and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), which weakens the salmon to a point where they can barely swim.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation councillor Joe Martin spoke at Tofino’s town hall event. Martin grew up in the village of Opitsaht on Meares Island near Canada’s surf capital.

“I’ve been on the land all my life,” said the master canoe carver and tour operator. “One of the things I’ve really noticed on the inlets here, Fortune Channel and Gunner Inlet, all the places where the fish farms are now, is there is seaweed, which used to be all nice and clear and clean, now it’s covered with sledge. It’s from the fish farms. I’m sure it’s from them. Certainly since the salmon farms have been in our waters, our wild stock have not been increasing.”

Members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association have agreements with 20 First Nation communities, notes Hall. In fact, more than three quarters of the salmon farmed in B.C. waters is done in partnership with local Indigenous.

“It’s a key economic driver and community builder in many First Nations communities,” he said. “We have a strong history of sitting down and engaging in open dialogue with First Nations, and that’s important. We welcome the opportunity to sit down with any First Nations who have concerns and find creative solutions that allow us to continue producing this important food and employing members of their community.”

Recently, Washington state passed legislation to phase out open-net Atlantic salmon farms after an incident last summer saw tens of thousand of invasive Atlantic salmon escape into the Pacific Ocean. Donnelly thinks the time to move to new technology is now.

“You look at the whole Coast, Alaska doesn’t do it, Northern B.C. doesn’t do it, now Washington or Oregon, they don’t do it. The only place left that is doing open-net pen salmon farming is southern B.C. I think the days are numbered,” he said.

Norwegian farmed-salmon firm Atlantic Sapphire is building a massive land-based aquaculture facility in Florida, according to a press release on seafoodsource.com.

The first phase of the project, which will cost around $100 million USD, is expected to produce 22 million pounds of fish per year.

A new group called BC LandAqua Ventures Inc. is trying to develop a land-based aquaculture facility on Vancouver Island, north of Campbell River.

“That for me is the game changer. Now government has a decision to make. They either approve it or not,” said Donnelly, adding that BC LandAqua has already raised about half of the $20-$40 million in private sector capital they would need to make the large-scale, closed-containment salmon farm a go.

Hall said it’s important to consider the power infrastructure that would be needed to replicate the ocean environment on land.

“It takes enormous amounts of power to have large tanks circulating that water around. The opportunity in B.C. is really to expand our ocean based aquaculture. The reason that the world looks to B.C. as a place to raise fish is because of our ocean conditions. Without the ocean, there is no salmon farming in B.C.,” Hall claims.

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