During Clayoquot Action’s 2016 Wild Salmon Delegation to Norway, a major salmon farming company coincidentally announced they would be shifting production to ocean-based closed containment. The Norwegian government pledged to help fund the company’s research. We were alarmed, because we knew if this was the direction Norway chose to go, we would have to work that much harder to have Canadian salmon farms removed from the oceans. Norwegian companies enjoy operating in Canada because standards are slacker—regarding everything from tenure fees to salmon lice thresholds. So we were relieved in 2019 when the Liberal government promised to move salmon farms out of BC waters by 2025.
Enter Cermaq Canada, the Norwegian company rearing Atlantic salmon here in Clayoquot Sound. Cermaq recently announced they will start sea trials this fall at their Millar Channel site in Ahousaht First Nations territory. The system they want to experiment with is called a Semi-Closed Containment System (SCCS). So is this a step in the right direction?
As noted by Cermaq, it’s all in the name. They are being very clear that this is a semi-closed system. Basically the device is a fabric shell instead of the current status quo: open-net pens. So there might be less exchange between the farmed salmon and the natural environment—but there will still be plenty of exchange.
Salmon sewage not contained
Most shocking at first glance, is that the system will still be dumping raw sewage into the otherwise pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound. This is not insignificant—a typical salmon farm produces the equivalent salmon sewage of a city of 150,000 people (see page 12 here). With, say, twelve out of twenty farms in production, Clayoquot Sound is receiving the equivalent sewage of a city of almost 2 million people. What other farmer dumps their sewage directly into adjacent water bodies? But on the ocean, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
Furthermore, SCCS will do nothing for viral particles—they will simply be pumped overboard to infest wild salmon populations. Our Going Viral Report (published earlier this year) found that 11 of Cermaq’s 12 active salmon farms were infected with PRV-1a, a highly contagious and deadly virus from Norway. This new facility will continue to pump 65 billion viral particles per hour into the ocean environment—so it will not address one of the biggest known threats to wild salmon.
Remember, Cermaq has 14 salmon farm tenures in the Clayoquot Biosphere Region. They are only replacing one of them—the rest will continue to spew viruses, sewage, sea lice and chemicals into the marine environment. Price seems to be a barrier—the system has been quoted to cost $5.5 million (although Canadian taxpayers will be subsidizing this Norwegian company to the tune of approximately $1 million dollars). Also, it will be only the second such system in Cermaq’s global operations, so it is not known how it will perform here. The new system is experimental.
Cermaq protecting their own fish—from fish farming impacts!
It appears that the purpose of Cermaq’s new facility might not be to protect wild salmon. Of course profit is the driving value for a corporation like Cermaq—they’re talking about actually increasing the number of fish in their SCCS. And the more one digs, the more it looks like an attempt to protect their own fish stock from the deleterious effects of salmon farming that they themselves are creating!
For example, Cermaq claims the new system will protect their farmed fish from Hazardous Algal Blooms (HABs). As stated on DFO’s website: “Globally, the frequency and magnitude of HABs have increased in recent years, influenced by anthropogenic pressures such as eutrophication [read: salmon farm sewage] and climate change. The production of biotoxins and physical damage to biota caused by HABs affect all levels of the marine ecosystem and can impact the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture. Similar trends are evident in British Columbia, with production losses due to the impact of HABs on the BC salmon aquaculture industry amounting to millions of dollars annually.” Yet Cermaq will continue to deposit the very sewage which fuels unseasonal algal blooms like the one which killed 205,000 Atlantic salmon at their Clayoquot Sound operations last November!
Like trying to stop pregnancy with leaky condoms
Semi-closed containment is a PR stunt—a false solution which will not stop wild salmon from sliding into extinction. It is a bit like handing out leaky condoms in order to appear to be doing something about stopping unwanted pregnancies. Great photo op as you hand out the condoms, but no way the plan is going to succeed!
On a good note, environmentalists, Cermaq and the federal government all agree: there are better ways to rear salmon than the current open-net pen method. Hence the federal promise to remove salmon farms from BC waters by 2025.
In a recent interview about the trial, Cermaq manager David Kiemele said, “The one thing we do need is time”. But wild salmon are on the brink of extinction, with numbers lower than ever seen in Canadian history. This is not the time to invest public money in a dead-end technology. It’s time for Cermaq to face the music: fish farms are coming out of BC waters.
Add your voice in support of removal of salmon farms from the ocean: salmonpeople.ca/fishfarms-out.
Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.