The following letter (in shorter form) appeared in the 24-Sep-2014 Westerly News. It didn’t make it onto their website yet, so we present it here for linking purposes.
Industry has declared this “Aquaculture Awareness Week,” but we at Friends of Clayoquot Sound think it’s more appropriate to have a Wild Salmon Awareness Week. Wild salmon have sustained both people and the land here for milennia, a true cornerstone of our ecology and economy. But now, wild salmon runs in Clayoquot are in criminally low numbers.
We at FOCS agree that appropriate aquaculture has a key role in feeding the world. But there is no single “aquaculture industry,” as this Awareness Week would have us think. Some aquaculture, like oyster farming, is a win-win: right here in Clayoquot, farmed oysters filter-clean our waters, produce high-value, low-impact protein, and create a small local industry. Elsewhere, farmed fish such as tilapia, which eat vegetable matter and are raised in ponds, indeed provide protein to the world.
But carnivore aquaculture (like salmon farming) is another matter. These fish eat meat — krill, shrimp and high-quality school fish — which results in a net loss of protein to the world. Feed companies are experimenting with alternate protein sources like pig’s blood and ground-up chicken waste, so this problem may ultimately be solvable.
But the catch-22 in salmon farming as currently practiced is that it’s done in open net-pens — giant floating net bags, of which we have 20 in Clayoquot waters, with another two being applied for.
These net-pens have well-known downsides: stress on the fish; parasite and disease amplification; open transmission to wild fish; free dissemination of pesticides and antibiotics into ocean waters; and dumping untreated waste on the sea floor.
All this must be having an effect on our wild salmon — returns all over Clayoquot number a tiny fraction of what they should be. The most intensive investigation into the situation ever undertaken, the Cohen Commission, issued 75 recommendations to protect wild salmon. Other than a moratorium on salmon farm expansion in the Discovery Islands, it has been largely ignored.
Cohen said the sensible path is to put wild salmon first, and FOCS has always been committed to this principal. Wild salmon are incredibly resilient. If we and our industries get out of their way, they will come back to Clayoquot Sound.
But we aren’t letting them. Salmon are a political football and the science and stewardship are not happening. DFO spends six times as much on finfish aquaculture as it does on restoring wild salmon habitat, even though the wild fishery brings in twice the revenue. Does that sound like sensible policy?
We aren’t looking to put salmon farmers out of business. Quite the opposite: We admire their enterprise. With a sustainable protein source and a move to closed containment, they could be a model industry.
Living elders speak colourfully of the days when one could “walk from Tofino to Opitsat on the backs of the salmon.” Imagine the effect a thriving wild salmon economy would have on our area.
The salmon farming industry siphons profits away to foreign shareholders, leaving us with relatively few jobs and some tax revenue. It’s not nothing, to be sure, but it pales compared to the thriving, locally-owned wild salmon fishery of just a few decades ago.
To those who say we can’t go back, we say “dream big.”
–greg blanchette, for FOCS