Category Archives: Politics

Avian flu outbreak in Fraser Valley threatens Christmas turkey supply, but where are the compensation critics?

Several years ago, two BC salmon farming companies experienced outbreaks of disease which resulted in the cull of all fish at three farm sites.

The outrage from the usual small group of anti-salmon farming clicktivists resulted in several news stories and blog posts condemning the CFIA’s policy of compensation for farmers who are ordered to destroy their stock.

This month, avian flu has once again hit poultry farms in the Fraser Valley, the second time in a decade, but there is not a peep from the “Wild Salmon Warriors.”

This group is happy to hitch its star to issues about pipelines, mine spills and whatever their Illustrious Leader posts about. Oh, they’ll bring the outrage, you better believe it, prompting some of the laziest journalists in BC to include their perspectives in the name of false balance.

But avian flu? Forget about it.

Unless you live in the Fraser Valley, you probably don’t even know that hundreds of thousands of birds are being destroyed, and that farmers will rightly be compensated for it.

Because that’s the law. It’s the Health of Animals Act.

It’s intended to encourage farmers to report serious outbreaks of illnesses, and it works.

As salmon farmers, our sympathies are with the poultry farmers and hope that this is resolved quickly, with minimal loss of livestock.

And for all those who complain about compensation, yet have the audacity to ask for lower taxes, welfare, higher minimum wages, better benefits and a massive infrastructure so you can drive to Starbucks? Give yourself a reality check. Your precious opinions are just that: opinions. If you can’t admit to yourself that they might be wrong, they’re not worth anything in the first place.

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Bullies fear they’ll be ignored

Now this is an interesting turn of events.

Dr. Craig Orr, who has made a career out of being a scientific gun-for-hire and media go-to guy for negative quotes about salmon farming, is complaining that the new Integrated Management of Aquaculture Plan advisory committee just isn’t fair.

Orr is quoted as saying he thinks environmental groups should have more than three seats at the table, otherwise they will just be “shouted down.”

“All we’re saying is, make it fair,” he said. “Have some (federal fisheries) scientists, have some academics, have some NGO scientists.”

But that’s exactly what the committee has, Dr. Orr. how is it not fair?

The current make-up of the advisory committee already has more environmental group representation than regional districts, yet they are not complaining about fairness. The committee has seven First Nations representations, and seven salmon farm company representatives, which makes perfect sense because it’s all about the Integrated Management of Aquaculture.

How is this not fair? Does Dr. Orr think the First Nations and salmon farm companies should give up some of their seats so environmental groups, who have no direct stake in managing aquaculture, should be given equal footing?

Besides, isn’t it environmental groups who have the tendency to “shout down” anyone who disagrees with them? How did BAMP turn out? How did CAAR’s partnership with Marine Harvest turn out? The ENGOs got mad, took their ball and went home when they found they couldn’t shout and bully the salmon farmers at the table to bend to their will.

These are projects in which Dr. Orr participated. Maybe he doesn’t like to participate in groups where he doesn’t have control over the Talking Stick all of the time.

Or perhaps Orr simply isn’t qualified to sit on the committee, since he’s published more papers about East Coast birds and rabbits than he has about aquaculture in B.C.

Either way, it doesn’t matter because despite his complaining, Orr says he isn’t going to participate.

But Orr said his organization has decided not to participate in the committee. He said he’s been involved in similar processes in the past where “things get blocked.”

“We don’t want to get into an arena where that advice is going to go into a black hole or just give us ulcers,” said Orr.

That’s right. It’s only OK to participate in committees where “things get blocked” for the salmon farmers, and where advice from salmon farmers goes into a “black hole” and where salmon farmers get ulcers.

This response shows that when some salmon farming opponents are denied their bully pulpit, they really aren’t interested in participating and collaborating to help make things better. They just want a platform to berate and condemn the things they hate.

That’s not science, and doesn’t belong at the IMAP advisory committee table.

Speaking for the salmon: something we can all agree on

Salmon are precious to all of us in B.C. and we can all play a part in fixing the broken system that manages them.

The biggest threat facing B.C. wild salmon is the federal agency tasked to manage it, suggests an interesting new manifesto by two former DFO officials.

Their document, titled “Epic Fail: Canada’s Fisheries Dilemma,” suggests wild salmon are threatened by a host of factors which have combined to whittle away at salmon numbers over the past century, and that if something doesn’t change, we will eventually catch and eat the last wild B.C. salmon.

The factors chipping away at the survival of wild salmon, according to the authors, include a mixture of archaic fisheries policies, inept management, changes to fisheries licences that have encouraged overfishing and deliberate misreporting during the past 30 years, funding cuts to enforcement and enhancement, and a system which ultimately does not prompt those who benefit most from wild salmon – fishermen of all types – to give back to salmon enhancement.

Before any fishermen get upset by that we are well aware that many sport fishers volunteer in enhancement projects, and donate their time and money to preserve wild salmon.

And we are well aware that many First Nations are involved in enhancement projects, because salmon are integral to their history and identity on this coast.

But as the authors point out, it’s simply not enough.

We were also heartened by one of their few comments about salmon farming. They do not see salmon farms as a threat to wild salmon; rather, as something that can co-exist with wild salmon under proper management:

Senior officials in key government positions cannot seem to understand that well managed wild salmon fisheries and well managed salmon farming together can best contribute to federal and provincial governments’ economic and social goals.

We think the authors of this report have some great ideas, and hope that their “Speaking for the Salmon” movement gains ground in B.C. We’re salmon farmers, but we’re also fishermen and First Nations and outdoors enthusiasts. We want to make sure wild salmon are here forever, and hope that by all of us working together to solve these management issues we can do that.

How to break the salmon farming industry

How some people would like to see salmon farming in B.C. end up.
How some people would like to see salmon farming in B.C. end up.

There are several groups of people who would like to see salmon farming in B.C. die a quick death.

Anti-salmon farming activists, obviously, who oppose it for a variety of emotional reasons.

But the real opposition comes from groups with economic clout. Groups who don’t necessarily want salmon farming to die, but want to find some way to “break” it so they can secure their own financial future.

Before we explain, let’s look at some numbers.

There’s a great big market out there worth billions of dollars, at home and abroad. Who wouldn’t want a piece of it.

But the problem is, people in the grocery store are mostly concerned about availability, nutrition and price.

Is farmed salmon available? Year-round, check. Is it nutritious? Check. Is it affordable? Check.

Alaskan marketers have done a brilliant job in the last decade of marketing their fish as a premium product, selling the image and wild feeling of Alaska rather than what is, which is, quite honestly, a not-very-tasty piece of frozen-at-sea pink salmon.

But still, most people in the grocery store couldn’t care less if there’s a picture on the package of a rugged fisherman holding up a salmon like Rafiki the monkey holds up Simba in the Lion King. If it’s not affordable, they ain’t gonna buy it.

Wild salmon marketers need to be smart. And here’s how they can break the B.C. salmon farming industry, putting it in a place subservient to their own interests.

Follow the example of Canadian beef

In 2002, Canadian beef was worth $1.4 billion in trade (value of exports over imports).

In 2011, that value had plummeted to $42 million.

What happened? Mad cow disease.

On May 20, 2003, a lab in Britain used as a reference lab by the OIE confirmed that one cow in Northern Alberta had BSE, an animal disease which may have a connection with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. Within hours of the confirmation, the USA closed the border to all Canadian beef. In retrospect, this was pure opportunism. The cow never entered the food supply, and the Americans’ downplaying of their own BSE cases a year later was hypocritical in comparison.

The ensuing fiasco had a ripple effect, which continues to affect the Canadian beef industry nearly 10 years later.

“Canada with all its natural, quality and production benefits is at risk of becoming a net importer of beef,” the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute reported in September this year. “The cattle cycle is presently experiencing lower production numbers but there is also no apparent strategy to regain valuable domestic market share.”

And the export market doesn’t look much better.

On the export stage, the Canadian industry is extremely reliant on one market — the USA, a market that accounts for 85% of Canada’s beef and cattle trade. The good news is the US generates $1.8 illion in total sales for Canada (nearly $1 billion in beef exports and over $800 million in cattle exports). The bad news is Canada is “backfilling” the US market; that is, by relying on Canadian cattle and beef supply, the US beef industry is expanding its exports and taking advantage of higher value and margins. And the Canadian industry appears to be content to let that happen.

The road to ruin

B.C. farmed salmon producers could find themselves in the same position, if they’re not careful. The path is already laid out for this to happen.

Factor one: wild salmon marketers have spent the past decade trying to convince people wild salmon is so much better than farmed.

Factor two: it’s only a matter of time before ocean aquaculture comes on line in the USA. Once it does, B.C. farmers had better have a plan to deal with it.

Factor three: B.C. is already “backfilling” the US market, providing cheap, nutritious farmed salmon available year-round to American customers while wild marketers work on expanding their markets and their profit margins by convincing people it’s worth paying more for a fish that was caught farther away and frozen at sea.

All it would take is a crisis in confidence, e.g. hysteria over ISA as prompted by anti-aquaculture activist Alexandra Morton, to motivate the USA to close the border to Canadian salmon, like it did for beef.

If that happened, who would profit? Wild salmon marketers, who would be able to increase their prices to meet demand, prices they haven’t enjoyed since the glory days of the 1980s when Alaska met nearly half of the world’s demand for salmon.

Would B.C.’s salmon farmers recover from something like that? Probably not.

Hopefully B.C. salmon producers, and Canada’s politicians, are not content to let this happen.

USA prepares for massive growth in aquaculture

Aquaculture from underwater

The United States is laying the groundwork for massive growth in aquaculture across the entire country.

The NOAA Fisheries Service (kind of like DFO in Canada) and the USDA (Department of Agriculture) have released a draft copy of their National Aquaculture Research and Development Strategic Plan. The aim of the plan is to “provide a framework for federal agencies to develop programs for research and development that affect the production of aquatic organisms such as finfish, crustaceans, mollusks, and algae.”

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century and beyond, a compelling case can be made for increasing scientific and technical knowledge to use aquaculture to grow safe and nutritious seafood in the United States; create new jobs, from coastal communities to the agricultural heartland; and foster sustainable aquaculture practices.

Aquaculture, in conjunction with wild-harvest fisheries, will help to meet the growing demand for seafood and provide alternatives to increasing fishing pressure on fragile wild fish stocks. Aquaculture can generate prosperity in new ways while conserving and enhancing the Nation’s natural resources and providing a safe, sufficient, and nutritious supply of seafood for the country and for export markets.

Aquatic species are highly efficient, with feed conversion rates that compare favorably with terrestrial animal production.

Globally, aquaculture has evolved dramatically since Federal legislation was enacted in 1980 and 1985. While wild fish harvest has stabilized, aquaculture has driven growth of the seafood sector, influenced product diversity, and found ways to address both economic development and environmental conservation goals in diverse aquatic ecosystems.

The sector is knowledge and technology driven and continues to innovate and adapt to societal needs for nutritious food, good jobs, and sustainable production. The United States has bountiful freshwater and marine natural resources, plentiful feed grains produced in the heartland, a world-class aquaculture R&D infrastructure, and scientists, pioneers, and entrepreneurs to drive innovations and novel discoveries.

The potential for sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry is indisputable. Today, however, the United States is a minor producer, supplying only about 5 percent of the seafood consumed domestically.

So how are they going to help it grow?

By putting more public money into research and development. 

“Without such support, the private sector cannot adequately fund certain types of research needed to advance the industry in the United States.”

By devising subsidies for aquaculture.

“Domestic aquaculture development does not have the support of a large commodity check-off program (i.e., a payment or a tax on sales of agricultural goods that finances a generic commodity marketing program, such as exists for milk, beef, and soybeans).”

By collaborating.

“The future grand challenges and current specific challenges identified in this Plan require new collaborative approaches across scientific disciplines, institutions, agencies, and public and private sectors and new non-governmental  partnerships to effectively and efficiently create opportunities for domestic aquaculture to  expand and prosper.”

“Determine new collaborative and economic opportunities between the aquaculture industry, the commercial fishing industry, and the conservation community (e.g. product marketing and employment crossover).”

By streamlining regulations, as per an Executive Order from President Obama himself.

“Policies and regulations to protect and restore our Nation’s natural resources for future generations can be compatibly aligned with our Nation’s opportunity as a world leader and model for sustainable aquaculture production. Such improvement in regulation is consistent with Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.”

By finding ways to reduce energy and feed costs, and minimize environmental impacts, investing in science and research to figure out new ways to improve.

“Aquaculture in the United States will continue to innovate and refine ―environmentally sustainable‖ practices in response to competitive pressures to reduce costs (especially of feed and energy), environmental regulations, competition for sites, market demand for certified products, limiting freshwater supplies, and competing uses for the nation’s coasts and waterways.”

By jump-starting a made-in-USA industry producing alternative protein sources, such as algae rich in Omega-3s,  to use in fish feed.

“Food and Drug Administration approval of new aquatic animal feed ingredients will be a critical step in novel ingredient development.”

By encouraging technological innovation in production systems.

AHA, some readers may say at this point, this is where they outline their glorious plan to transition all salmon farms to land-based production systems.

Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no mention whatsoever of moving fish farms on land.

In fact, the plan talks about how American aquaculture producers have been world leaders in developing ocean farming technology, systems which are exactly the same as the ones used in Canada. There appear to be no plans to move fish farms from the ocean to the land, but to instead encourage the development of aquaculture which is sustainable, uses less energy and is cost-effective.

A well-situated ocean salmon farm trumps a land-based salmon farm on all three of those criteria, every single time.

The paper does give some examples of innovation. One idea is “nutrient trading,” which works the same way as carbon credits. Companies which find ways to reduce their emissions of nutrients, like manure from land-based farms, could sell their extra credits to other agricultural or aquaculture producers who are facing high costs to reduce their nutrient emissions.

For example, a dairy farmer in Olympia, WA who finds a way to keep all of his farm manure from leaching into the watershed, and into the Puget Sound, could sell credits to a salmon farmer in Puget Sound who would find it impractical and too costly to build a system to catch all fish waste. Or a salmon farmer in Puget Sound who finds a way to reduce fish waste by more efficient feeding practices could sell credits to a dairy farmer who cannot afford to build a multi-million-dollar manure containment system.

For a case study in how nutrient trading could work, take a look at this article about nutrient trading in Chesapeake Bay.

It’s a pretty thorough draft plan, and NOAA is seeking public comments until the end of summer.

Aquaculture is going to happen in the USA, and it’s going to be big.

Meanwhile, here in Canada the industry is in danger of stagnation because government lacks the will and the courage to allow it to grow.

Hopefully that will change, otherwise someday we’ll be importing most of our seafood from the USA.