BC Salmon Farmers engage and respond

It’s a flurry of activity on the salmon guy blog. I have a post yesterday commenting on the BC Salmon Farmers Association newest website: bcsalmonfacts.ca and the accompanying press release and coming onslaught of PR spin. I think it’s safe to say that I am somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to suggestions of the environmental inertness of open-pen salmon farming on the BC coast.

However, I do — and I did — express my appreciation that folks running the website just dove right into their ‘transparency’ efforts by posting my blog efforts as one of their first discussion pieces – with a response. You can visit their site, or read the reproduction here:

bcsalmonfacts.ca response to my post:

BC Salmon Facts says:

Jan 10 2011 5:49 PM

Hi David;

Thanks for visiting our website at www.bcsalmonfacts.ca. We appreciate your skepticism and believe that any subject should be open to challenge. We also believe that the source of the information be transparent – just like you have identified who you are on your blog. Because of this, The BC Salmon Facts campaign does not hide the fact that it is salmon farmers speaking up.

To our knowledge, BC salmon farmers have never thought our facts to be beyond challenge. But, shouldn’t the same be expected of critics? If salmon farmers feel that there is incorrect information about our business (fish meal use is one example, “dyes” another), then wouldn’t you expect us to speak up? Our goal with BC Salmon Facts is simply to assist salmon farmers in communicating.

You’re absolutely correct, motives should be clear, and then we can get down to discussing concerns, and the facts.

There is no arguing that all food production has some sort of impact, which has to be managed. We feel that we have listened to concerns, made important changes to our business, and are quite proud of the product we produce and how we produce it. Today, BC salmon farming is an important, viable business, producing a healthy product. Improvements will always continue.

As you probably know, salmon farms are open up for tours during the summer months. During the tour farmers often hear, “There are things I didn’t know about salmon farming until seeing it for myself – you need to get more people out here to see for themselves”. Well, it’s not easy getting 4.4 million BC residents out to a farm, so this campaign attempts to bring the farm to them.

We would encourage people to visit www.bcsalmonfacts.ca to discuss their concerns and, where they feel needed, challenge the content of the website. As you have said, “discussion…can be constructive…that’s why I started the blog in the first place.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Your opinion is important, so we have posted a link to your blog on our site, along with this response. Please feel free to provide your comments at www.bcsalmonfacts.ca


I have since posted a response on bcsalmonfacts.ca and will have to see if the moderator chooses to publish my response and if the discussion continues.

I do hand it to them. It’s not an easy place to be in for them, and they just jumped into the fire with it. Maybe it’s a bit late? Maybe not?

I’m also skeptical of comments such as the alluding to the poor-lowly salmon farmers needing some help communicating. Come one… the bulk of these are multi-national corporations with deep pockets… And, as with every publicly traded corporations, they have quarterly targets and analyst expectations to meet.

Yet, the invite to visit and learn more is a good one. Launching into the social media world is also a dangerous venture, yet can pay dividends (sorry for the pun).

One thing that is not going away any time soon… the hot nature of this subject, and I’m pretty sure it will continue to be a hot spring as the Cohen Commission scrambles for their May 2011 deadline (which doesn’t actually exist anymore).

bcsalmonfacts I applaud your efforts and, yes, I’m sure I would learn things with a visit to the farms and appreciate the invite. I  paid a visit to cattle feedlots in California some years ago and also learned a lot too, however, not necessarily things I wanted to learn. I can’t say I’m fully buying the farm yet.

One of the big challenges with understanding the impacts of salmon farming is that it’s all underwater — literally. It’s also potential migratory impacts, in that they might be coming and going impacts. And thus, the general public is left having to read battling science on the issue to try and draw their own conclusions.

Or, trusting that government agencies have the general public’s best interests at heart… of which the recent court case slamming the federal government for handing aquaculture to the Province proved was not the case. And now the cost of that court case, and the cost of developing all new regs, and then implementing.

Or, paying for things like the $5 million BC Pacific Salmon Forum (read B.C. “Pacific Salmon Forum” – $5 million air pie? on this site) which didn’t conclude much specific and then disappeared to gather dust on Ikea shelving units and soon on some internet server – and now funding another $15 million public inquiry.

Gets a bit tiresome.

As I’ve mentioned on various posts on this site and in a public session or two… maybe part of the answer lies in a Citizen’s Assembly similar to the BC Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform? Sort of similar to an impartial jury that explores all sides of an issue.

I also say “part of the solution”, because another fundamental aspect of this issue is the unsettled treaty environment with First Nations on much of the BC coast. That is not something that can be swept under the rug.

The discussion goes on…

9 thoughts on “BC Salmon Farmers engage and respond

  1. mrenviro

    This website is full of propoganda and should be removed.
    Green washing the public at it’s finest.
    Time to wash your ideas our with soap and protect our WILD salmon.
    that is all i have to say.

  2. Stewart Hawthorn

    Hi David,
    Thanks for your open minded and fair approach to this issue. I am new to the BC salmon farming community. I moved here from New Zealand where the public perception of salmon farming could not be more different from that in British Colombia. However the reality is very similar – both communities are producing good quality and healthy protein in an environmentally responsible manner. I am very pleased that the farming companies are now trying to give people the opportunity to hear our perspective.

    Can we be better than we are today? Yes of course we can.
    That is why we invest in research and development. That is why we continually seek to improve our practices.

    It is good to have public scrutiny of what we do as this results in us trying harder to be even better at what we do. But it is very important to recognize that we are already very good at what we do and, from my direct experience the BC farmers are very much focused on protecting the wild stocks and the environment. I am proud to have joined this community of farmers.

    I do hope that you will come and visit our operations and invite you to contact me when you are in Campbell River so that we can continue the discussion.

    Stewart Hawthorn
    Managing Director, Grieg Seafood BC Ltd.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks for the comment Stewart,
    you came from one beautiful part of the world to one not so bad part of the world.
    As you allude to, and I’ve pointed out in comments — the big difference between salmon farming on the BC coast than anywhere else in the world, is the simple fact that BC still has relatively large populations of wild salmon stocks. The history of wild and farmed salmon interactions is not a very good one. I’m also not aware of Pacific salmon being farmed in the Atlantic in any great abundance and thus there is not the danger of escapees and introduction of an exotic species to local ecosystems.

    There is quite a fascinating salmon story in New Zealand… many years ago some folks from the South Island traveled to some areas in California that had relatively healthy salmon runs at the time. They took some of the eggs, took them back to New Zealand, hatchery-raised them, and now there are a few self-supporting Pacific salmon populations in New Zealand.

    The bizarre part of this story is that now some indigenous people in California have started traveling back to New Zealand to see if they can get some eggs back to bring those same salmon back to their California rivers because wild salmon have declined so precipitously.

    As to my knowledge, in New Zealand one does not need a “license” to go fishing, you just go fishing (with bag limits, etc.). I also saw a presentation recently by some Maori folks who talked about how the Treaty environment of New Zealand has allowed them to enter the commercial fishery at a larger and larger scale.

    I would be curious to see if farming salmon in New Zealand has had an impact on surrounding ecosystems and threatened any of the local fisheries (e.g. shellfish or otherwise)?

    I can certainly appreciate that many BC salmon farmers are very much focused on protecting wild stocks and the environment — and also recognize that salmon farms hire local folks, which also have a vested interest in their surrounding environment. However, similar language has been fronted by the logging industry over the years, and I’m sure that living in Campbell River you can see the impact that industry had — it also, in many ways, logged itself right out of work. Too much cut in a period of about 40 years, little value added, and look where the industry is now…

    Similar language is also used by the oil and gas industry, and so on. (see for example some of my posts in past weeks on a recent trip to China and some of the claims there about being “low carbon”).

    This is one of my main points — PR becomes dangerous because people can say anything, like: “the environment is important to us”, for example… yes, sure the environment is important to you but it doesn’t meant you might not be having a significant impact on it (and sometimes in ways that you don’t even know).

    I don’t say this to be argumentative with you, as you may very well be an environmentally-conscious individual — it’s really a matter of scale for me in many ways. The rather uninhibited early years of growth of salmon farms have had an impact. The escape of Atlantic salmon has had an impact. The settling of feces and food on the sea floor has had an impact on surrounding areas. The use of antibiotics and lice control chemicals has had an impact.

    The question is how much? and whether those impacts are acceptable? That’s largely the debate these days, if we really break it down.

    One last piece in here that is not being discussed on the pretty salmonfacts website, I’ve mentioned it in other comments. The bulk of the coast of BC is the subject of Treaty negotiations with First Nations. The simple fact of the matter is that most of BC is disputed territory — it is not “Crown land.” The treaty process has bumbled along since the early 1990s without significant progress, and at great cost.

    The fundamental aspect of honorable treaty negotiation, especially when it takes decades… what do we do about impacts to the land, coast and sea in areas under negotiation, as the negotiations carry on? For example, if companies and the Province benefit from logging operations, this means resources, potential future revenues, etc. are leaving a First Nation territory while negotiations are still underway. This is not honorable, good faith negotiation.

    Pardon the analogy, but it’s like negotiating with your kids about how much dessert they might have, whilst you’re eating the dessert from their bowl. By the time the negotiations reach a settlement, you’ve eaten the bulk of the desert and the kid is left with a spoonful, that has your snot and slobber and all over it.

    yet these realities don’t see the light of day in a PR campaign — such as the one currently underway by the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. Throw in the fact that Canada is now a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, with the very important article about “Free, Prior and Informed Consent”. That starts to shift the regulatory environment…

    thanks again.

  4. Annie

    Regarding the AFS and poaching in the Fraser I know first hand it did go on while I was a commercial fisher. It was not unusual to be approached by native fishermen in Steveston with the offer to load you that night with food fish in return for half the money. I know as I was approached as was a relative. It was out of that scenario that the Fishermen’s Survival Coalition was born. I also know firsthand from a DFO officer at the time that was related to a fellow fisher that they regularly patroled the river till dusk when they would see transport trucks in the Fraser canyon pulling into secluded roads to wait to be loaded with poached fish destined for the US. Hard to believe maybe for an outsider but most Fraser gillnetters can tell similar stories.

  5. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Annie. yes, certainly, it’s not to say that these sorts of things didn’t happen and I’m sure there are other similar stories. The last thing I would suggest is that folks are liars on this issue. The important point here is more about the impact and potential numbers of fish handled in this manner. As pointed out in comments (and past posts), for there to be an impact approaching anything like the numbers of salmon harvested by the commercial sector in BC, this would have required convoy after convoy of trucks heading south — and I don’t imagine US border patrol would have allowed that…

    Thus, my own humble opinion on this issue is that the focus on this ‘poaching’/’illegal catch’ issue — for example the Williams report/inquiry of a few years ago — is a little too great when balanced against potential/actual impact on salmon runs. I think this is a similar point that salmon farming proponents are raising — yes, maybe we’re having ‘localized’ impacts on wild salmon runs; however, in comparison to the real issues; it’s a small impact. (at least that being their opinion, however I think the jury is still out).

    So, i certainly don’t discount your experiences and the stories you’ve heard — it’s simply that in comparison to the bigger issues, such as managing salmon populations by catching 80% or more of the returning population in Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)-guided management for coming on five decades. The overfishing that you mention. And, it’s not that I point a finger at the commercial industry; they were simply catching what they were told was “sustainable”.

    However, I’ve also been told no shortage of stories by commercial fisherfolks (on Haida Gwaii for example) where fishing boundaries were originally established in such a way that one or two sets of a seine boat near the mouth of smaller streams could largely wipe out an entire year’s return of chum or pink. Some of these fisherfolks had to lobby the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to no end, to get those fishing boundaries moved so that schooling and holding salmon (often waiting for a little blast of rain to feed the small streams) wouldn’t get wiped out by short-sighted management regimes.

    often, the boundary movement came too late…

  6. Stewart Hawthorn

    Hi David,
    You raise a range of interesting points in your response to my posting on your blog. I do want to address these as best I can. I hope that ultimately you will come and see for yourself what we do and how we do it.

    You comment that, compared to NZ, in BC there are large populations of wild salmon stocks and the history of wild and farmed interactions is not a very good one.

    This is an interesting point – but this is one of the myths that I’d like to see the wider public understand better. The farmers in BC have actually got a great record of living in harmony with wild salmon runs. In the Broughton – increasing pink runs and coho runs. In the Fraser a record sockeye run. Coordinated and effectively managed sealice levels to specifically protect wild stocks (not to protect the farmed fish). Go to BCSalmonFacts.ca and click on the different facts to get a better idea of what makes this a good news, not a bad news, story. Ask questions to get more detail where you would like this.

    You also raise some interesting points about how salmon came to be in New Zealand. You are correct – the origin of King salmon in New Zealand is from the Sacramento river in northern California. They have established wild runs. These are supported in some areas by relatively small scale hatchery release programmes (much like is done in BC with enthusiastic volunteers who want to see salmon thrive in the rivers of New Zealand). The company I used to work with in New Zealand was honoured to supply a (farmed!) salmon feast to the First Nations group who visited and have committed to assisting where possible with returning viable eggs to California over time if that is what is desired.

    You also asked about salmon farming impacts on local fishers in New Zealand. Farming in the water does have impacts in New Zealand, just like all farming activities do. But salmon farming produces reversible impacts (and very rapidly reversible – it takes a few years to get the seabed back to an unimpacted state versus decades to centuries for a forest to regenerate after being cut). In New Zealand there have been no observed impacts on local shellfish or fin fish populations resulting from farming activities. This has been verified by independent scientific advice (funded by the salmon company, but with a legislated requirement for independent reporting). Just like here in BC these reports are publically available. Salmon farming is a good economic activity that should be seen as part of the solution to the world’s sustainability problems – it is not, in my view, part of the problem.

    You then discuss more generally regarding what are acceptable impacts and how do we determine what is acceptable. You also comment on the role of PR. I’m glad to say that I agree with you here! All human activities have impacts. We do need to debate what is acceptable to the community here in BC. But the community deserves to hear both sides of the story – PR works both ways and the people who advocate for the elimination of salmon farming (that is what would effectively happen if the industry was legislated out of the natural waterways) are very good at communicating their ideas and concerns. Salmon farmers have a responsibility to explain why we believe that our activities are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

    Hopefully we can continue this discussion in person one day – in the meantime, thanks again for your thoughts about the new website. Please keep posting there with any further questions or points of clarification.

    Best regards,
    Stewart Hawthorn
    Managing Director, Grieg Seafood BC Ltd.

  7. salmon guy Post author

    Hi Stewart,
    thanks for taking the time in continuing this chat. I certainly have to respectfully take issue with a few comments about the ‘myths’ you allude to… like anything, and especially this hot button issue of salmon farming on the BC coast… it is multifaceted with more sides, angles and faces then a polar bear embossed diamond from Nunavut.

    I don’t quite buy the ‘fish farms living in harmony with wild salmon runs’ argument… it’s a pretty weak causal connection. If I might use the analogy, it’s like saying clearcut logging had a harmonious relationship with salmon because look at the record Fraser sockeye run this year. All those years of industrial clearcuts ‘obviously’ didn’t do any damage, look at this record 2010 run. What’s everyone complaining about?

    The jury is most certainly still out on this apparent harmonious relationship between salmon farms and wild salmon. And quite frankly, I agree with the newspaper article posted on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website today regarding this PR campaign. Some of the statements made in the press release, and some of the statements on the website, just inflame the situation more than seek resolution.

    If the intention truly was to ‘get the real story out’ then why use the “email from Nigerian refugee analogy” — that’s simply inciting. (not that i’m not prone to the same approach from time to time… but this is a PR campaign by big, ‘responsible, companies with many brains at the table (I hope). I would hope the PR firm launching this could come up with something a little more clever than that. (but then many folks tune me up on my communication tactics too…)

    I think I’d have to beg to differ that the runs are “increasing”… as compared to what? late 1990 numbers when there was a zero mortality coho policy? (I have the same issue with DFO and there salmon numbers too… see older posts… colonial cultures tend to have a rather narrow timeframe when they start talking about historical populations)

    I also really struggle with the farmed salmon is part of a sustainable food supply issue.

    If feed conversion levels are still above 1:1 as in the 1.2:1 as claimed on the PR site… that’s still a negative gain — and negative gains are not “sustainable”. If it takes me $1.20 to make $1.00, I don’t think any financial adviser would recommend this investment scheme?

    Furthermore, last time I checked at the local Prince George supermarket, farmed Atlantic salmon prices weren’t all that different then wild salmon prices. I don’t imagine that’s much different in the U.S. where the bulk of BC farmed salmon gets exported too. And thus, as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I don’t think inner city kids in the U.S. are eating poached or baked salmon at any meal they might secure.

    I also don’t imagine that BC salmon farmers are making huge strides to get their product to West Africa in its time of ethnic strife and starvation.
    It’s not to suggest that they necessarily should… it’s more that this argument that farmed salmon are a solution to food shortages is seriously flawed. Frankly, salmon is a luxury food that some middle class families can afford — however, cheaper beef, pork and poultry are going to be the meat alternatives to folks on the lower income scale.

    And thus, I have doubts about the “good economic activity” that you suggest. As far as I can see (which sometimes isn’t that far, depends on how hard its raining), salmon in the marketplace is about supplying higher income folks, and thus, this is why it makes “economic” sense to some. Especially publicly-traded companies that have shareholders to satisfy. I respectfully suggest that this is one of those half truths, half facts that I have mentioned.

    You are fair in your comments on PR and yes, I agree in turn — PR is certainly used by all sides. If you’d like search “Canadian Boreal Forest Initiative Agreement” on this site (or Marine Stewardship Council) and you’ll see I don’t only have issues with corporate PR, there is certainly enviro-NGOs PR campaigns that also drive me batty.

    I’m not so sure I agree with the assertion that the salmon farming industry would be “eliminated” if it was taken out of natural waterways… I’ve seen a few recent presentations that demonstrate the technology and financials around closed-containment systems. Also… like so many things, industry proponents buried in certain ways of doing things, faced with imminent changes, jump up and down, scream and shout, twist and turn and lobby the shit out of government to make sure changes are not enforced.

    “we will be forced out of business”; “this industry will die”; “people will lose jobs”; and every other possible argument. And then… what to our wonder… real innovative thinking happens… new technology is created, becomes more affordable, and a whole new way of doing things all of a sudden arises.

    Look at the incredible growth of organic farming: from food to cotton. Early on, industry proponents said “no way, won’t happen” and now?… Walmart has jumped on board.
    Similar arguments about alternative energy and so on.

    And so, I am a bit curious about what you mean by salmon farmers are “part of the solution and not part of the problem” — what solution(s) are you referring to? And which problems?

    And same to you, thanks for taking the time. I would like to accept the offer for a visit at some point.

  8. Stewart Hawthorn

    Thanks for this David, I look forward to continuing the discussion when you visit.

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