By Michelle Molnar, Environmental Economist
British Columbians are passionate about salmon — both wild and farmed. With the health of our wild salmon in question, many are wondering about the role of farmed salmon in the 2009 salmon crash. As the Cohen Commission slowly navigates its way through all the data, information and opinions, we know there is a real solution for a known risk to wild salmon, and a recent report shows that this solution is economically viable.
We do know that the way we currently farm salmon using open-net pens along wild salmon migration routes is placing young Pacific salmon, during the most vulnerable part of their life, at higher risk of unnatural disease and parasite infection. We also know that there it is a better way to farm salmon. Alternative technologies like closed-containment systems can prevent the transfer of disease and pollution from farmed salmon into the natural environment. And now, government-based research is indicating that the perceived economic barriers to finding new ways of doing aquaculture are actually unfounded.
Last week, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released The Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia (BC) Aquaculture Industry. The report concluded that closed-containment technology is likely to be profitable, provoking government interest in commercial-scale pilot studies to test the report's assumptions. The government study comes on the heels of multiple individual and industry proposals to pilot closed-containment technology; the biggest of which has been proposed by Marine Harvest Canada, the largest Atlantic salmon, fish farming company in British Columbia.
DSF, together with our partners in CAAR are taking the study one step further. In addition to modeling the business case for closed containment aquaculture, we are working with Marine Harvest Canada to evaluate the environmental impacts of closed containment in comparison to the standard open-net pen technology. Unlike the DFO study, which is actually a financial analysis that considers only the costs and benefits that apply to the owner-operator or investor of an aquaculture operation, this study considers the financial, social and environmental impacts of alternative technologies. The results of the study should be available late-summer of 2011.
Removing open net-pen salmon farms from wild juvenile salmon migration routes won't be enough to save Fraser sockeye on its own. But if we can demonstrate that closed-containment aquaculture, on balance, is profitable on financial, social, and environmental grounds, is this not one of a few obvious steps we can take right now to save our salmon?