UBC Fisheries Economist Rashid Sumaila: “We need to rebuild and properly care for our wild fish, and then if we work together on sustainable aquaculture, hopefully we can meet our demand for fish” | Submitted
The United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund have put a lot of focus on aquaculture as an environmentally sustainable way to feed a growing world population, which officially reached eight billion last week.
But a new study led by a University of British Columbia (UBC) fisheries economist cautions against being overly optimistic about aquaculture, suggesting that over-reliance on it could undermine the need to improve wild-caught fisheries. manage.
It notes that aquaculture growth has leveled off and production of some farmed species has declined.
“We show relevant evidence suggesting that aquaculture growth rates have already peaked and are beginning to decline in all cases studied,” notes the study, which was published in Frontiers in Marine Science. “Our analysis suggests that Atlantic salmon…is the species with the highest growth rate in the world.”
That’s no surprise, given that environmentalists have been campaigning against open-net Atlantic salmon farming for two decades. With the removal of open-net salmon farms from the Discovery Islands, they’ve managed to close about a quarter of BC’s salmon farms, and last week scored a win in Washington state.
There, the Washington Department of Natural Resources announced the cancellation of the last two leases Cooke Aquaculture has for open-net steelhead farms, ending open-net fish farming in Washington.
Anti-fish farm activists applaud the decision and hope it informs the still-evolving policies of Fisheries and Oceans Secretary Joyce Murray, who held consultations this fall on the transition of BC salmon farms
But anti-fish farming environmentalists are now concerned that Murray has changed its strategy, moving from a complete phase-out of open-net fish farming to a more harm-reduction approach.
When Murray’s predecessor, Bernadette Jordan, received her marching orders from the Prime Minister, her mandate was to “develop a responsible plan to transition from salmon farming in British Columbia’s coastal waters by 2025, and begin the introduction of Canada’s first salmon farm . ever Aquaculture Act.”
In recent roundtables Murray held with environmentalists, First Nations and the aquaculture industry, participants learned that the terms of her mandate had changed.
The plan for BC salmon farms is now “to gradually minimize or eliminate interactions between farmed and wild salmon,” according to roundtable participants. That could open the door to hybrid systems and semi-closed containment, which environmentalists see as half measures.
The biggest concern with open-net fish farms is that they can concentrate and amplify disease and sea lice and transmit them to wild salmon, although Murray scientists have said these farms pose “minimal risk” to wild salmon.
Living Oceans executive director Karen Wristen fears Murray’s plan now leaves open the possibility of open-net fish farming beyond 2025 using hybrid and semi-closed containment systems.
She recently authored Lousy Choices, a report that concluded that none of these systems really addresses the fundamental concern of exposing wild fish to farm-borne pathogens.
“If the technology existed that would make it possible to farm salmon on an industrial scale in the same waters needed to support wild salmon, the salmon farming debate would be over,” the report states. “But that technology does not exist.”
Wristen also doesn’t have much faith in new open ocean systems developed in Norway. These large fish houses are placed further out to sea to minimize exposure to wild fish.
China, which accounts for 60 percent of the world’s aquaculture production, is now in on that game. In June, China harvested its first batch of Atlantic salmon from the Deep Blue Number-1 open ocean system in the Yellow Sea.
“Any place they would put them on our coast, if they’re going to anchor them, would be on the continental shelf,” Wristen told BIV. ‘And I want to assure you there isn’t a place on the continental shelf where there aren’t fish. The question is whose fishing ground are you going to disturb?”
Environmentalists say the only safe way to raise salmon is on land. While recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology has evolved to allow large quantities of fin whale to be farmed, the economics have proved challenging, especially for salmon.
Atlantic Sapphire ASA (OTCMKTS:AASZF) has invested more than $300 million in a major land system in Florida. Since the first harvest of Atlantic salmon in 2020, the fish has suffered a number of massive fish kills and continues to operate at a loss, with a net loss of $14.5 million for the first half of 2022.
Rashid Sumaila, a UBC fisheries economist and lead author of the recent aquaculture study, thinks land-based systems would be an ideal alternative to open-net fish farming, if the economy could work.
“It’s a big challenge to make the economy work,” he admitted. “And that is a big hurdle. I think on land, if we can make it economically viable, could be a fun way to add fish and salmon for people in BC and Canada.
Ruth Salmon, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said the industry is investing in new technology and practices to reduce the impact of salmon farming on wild fish, but added that it needs time and investor confidence to get the technology to work. refine.
“A lot of things we’ve been thinking about need time for trials,” she said. “That’s one of our problems with the speed at which Secretary Murray wants the transition to happen.”
Murray aims to have a plan for fish farming in BC by 2023, with new regulations to be implemented in 2024. There is no comparable fish farming plan in Atlantic Canada.
“You really need investor confidence to invest the dollars and the time it takes to do that,” Salmon said. “There are a lot of really interesting ideas. But we need time and investment to try them out.”
According to the United Nations, wild fisheries contributed 51 percent by 2021 and aquaculture contributed 49 percent of the global fish harvest.
Like any new industry, aquaculture experienced a major growth spurt between the 1980s and 2000s, but has since plateaued, Sumaila found in his research.
“We see this pattern almost everywhere: they grow and they taper off,” he told BIV. “It can grow, but much slower than people expect. To me it means that we really need to do everything we can to conserve and manage our wild fisheries so that the two can work together.
It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the world’s wild fish stocks are already harvested at maximum sustainable yield. In BC, the commercial sockeye salmon fishery is all but dead, thanks to a trend of Pacific salmon moving more and more northward, likely due to climate change.
This year, 6.8 million sockeye returned to the Fraser River system — three million fewer than the forecast for the season, according to the Pacific Salmon Commission. Canadian commercial fishermen were only allowed to catch 229,000 fish.
Meanwhile, commercial fishers in Alaska caught 74.8 million salmon (all species) this year, and Bristol Bay shattered records with a massive return of 69.7 million sockeye.
Sumaila does not believe the argument that the world’s oceans have reached the limit of their carrying capacity. He believes there is room for wild fishing.
“There are estimates around the world that fish could come back, provided we haven’t taken all the habitat,” he said. “There is a percentage increase that we can get from the wild. These species are very resilient if we give them the chance.”
His main concern is that the management and reconstruction of wild fish stocks can be ignored if too much hope is placed on aquaculture.
“We need to rebuild and properly care for our wild fish, and then if we do sustainable aquaculture together, hopefully we will be able to meet our demand for fish,” he said. “I think we just need to find a balance to make our wild and farmed fish sustainable.”