Editorial by Peter Chettleburgh in Northern Aquaculture

Issues aired at Vancouver conference

I spent two absorbing days last month attending the How to Farm the Seas conference in Vancouver. This was a second running of the event which was first held in PEI early last fall. However, while the focus of the PEI gathering was East Coast aquaculture this one was on West Coast issues related to the science, economics and politics of aquaculture.

It was one of those rare aquaculture conferences that go well beyond the technology of the industry to the underlying philosophy and key issues that govern everything we do in the sector — a platform for plenty of lively discussion. Presentations touched on all the hot spots – food safety, precautionary principle, escapes, pollution, you name it. There was also ample discussion on public policy as it relates to aquaculture.

One of the speakers was David Murray, Director of Research for the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) in Washington, DC. STATS is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving media coverage of  scientific,
medical and statistical information. The goal of the organization is intervention in areas where coverage of natural science of public policy research is inadequate to the complexities of the issue or debate. Sounds like aquaculture in a nutshell doesn’t it? Anyway, Murray commented that it appears the industry is always fighting “could be’s,” – we’re constantly having to defend the industry against the threat of what could happen, not what has happened. He said that if public policy insists on a “guarantee” of safety, “we can never get anywhere.” How true. It seems as if we’ve been fighting the “potential” threats of disease transmission to wild stocks, genetic interactions, antibiotics, etc, etc for ever. But, as far as I can determine, in 20 years of coastal fish farming none of these potential risks has turned into reality. Still the arguments continue??

Perhaps the question we should be asking our critics and governments is how long before the “potential” threat is over – do we have another five years, twenty five years or do we have to go for a full 100 years to get the gold seal of environmental approval. Furthermore, I’d like to know just how many wild fish have been killed by aquaculture. Is it a hundred, a thousand, a million or could it be closer to zero? More confounding is that while we continue to defend our industry against imagined threats, the capture fisheries (commercial and recreational), forestry and urban development continues to kill wild fish at a prodigious rate- almost half a billion (with a “b”) fish killed in British Columbia’s commercial and recreational fisheries since 1980. Just which industry is the problem here?

One of the final speakers was former fisheries minister John Fraser who urged that the industry exercise caution in its practices. Attending the conference as a representative of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, he said “Real issues are different to different people. To the Council the real issue is the survival of wild stocks. Your industry must not become an obstacle to the revitalisation of wild salmon.” The question, he concluded, is how to bring them (wild stocks) back and what the industry can do to help.

But perhaps the most compelling comments came from Anne McMullin, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, who stressed that the industry must win the support of the people on the coast. “We need a social licence,” she said. “We need the right social conditions to operate in BC.”

How true. All the science and public policy in the world won’t help if we do not have the support of the communities in which we work.

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