Farmed and Dangerous Blog

Posts Tagged ‘farmed salmon’

ISA test results inconclusive

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

The BC Salmon Farmers are crowing over today’s media conference announcing the results of further testing for the ISA virus in Pacific salmon. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the salmon farming industry’s public relations division – aka DFO Aquaculture Branch – tried their best to sound neutral and unbiased but were clearly pleased to report their findings to date. But not so fast (spin) doctors.

If you listened to the first few minutes of the media conference call there was nothing but good news. According to Dr. Con Kiley, Director of National Aquatic Animal Health with CFIA, there are no confirmed cases of ISA in either wild or farmed salmon in BC, all the samples received were thoroughly tested, all tests were negative and basically, we can all relax. There is no cause for concern.

That would be great news. ISA in the Pacific ocean could have tragic and truly devastating consequences if the disease were to mutate or prove to be virulent. Today’s announcement from the CFIA, DFO and the BC government was very reassuring – up to about the 10 minute mark.

I started getting very worried again when Kiley noted that “these supplementary results must be considered inconclusive because of the poor quality of the samples.” Say what? Inconclusive?

The spin-doctoring started seriously unravelling when a reporter from the Seattle Times asked if Canadian government officials would be willing to share raw samples with US researchers if they wanted to do their own testing (audio credit: Hmmm – seems our friends to the south are as suspicious of DFO and CFIA’s cosy partnership with the fish farming industry as Canadians are.

Peter King, who heads up the Moncton DFO laboratory that did the re-testing of the samples responded (and I quote): “For the most part these samples are either partially – and I say over the half way mark – or totally, totally degraded. Sharing those samples would not be good science. They are in poor condition, we received them in poor condition and moving them anywhere else is not going to help anybody.” He talks about the storage of the samples and the degradation of RNA, then goes on to say: “That’s why we call things inconclusive – because the degradation is so bad you cannot form an opinion from a test standpoint as to whether or not you are capable or not capable. The fact that they come up negative doesn’t really mean anything because they are so badly degraded.”

The negative test “doesn’t really mean anything”?

CFIA’s Kiley tries to regain control of the spin: “Or that you get a result that’s positive.”

King acknowledges “That’s a possibility too – that’s why we have to go to confirmatory testing…”

So given the huge uncertainty, surely our federal agencies are now working hard to get to the bottom of this? If the samples are poor quality, they must have a plan to immediately secure more and better samples? If the results are inconclusive and they can’t categorically rule out the presence of ISA then they’ll be spending sleepless nights putting together a testing program to make certain our wild salmon are not exposed to this disease.

Dr. Kiley advises DFO and CFIA are “assessing current testing levels for ISA in both wild and aquaculture populations in BC” and will “increase surveillance activities as required”. But they are acting quickly, right? Kiley replies there are ideal times of year for tests and based on the species and where they want to test they will decide what will be done and when.

So the spin will be ‘no ISA in BC’ while the reality is the tests are totally inconclusive, ISA might be present or it might not, the salmon farmers continue to do their own sampling and testing (but are ‘sharing’ the results of their in-house fish health audits with the Province) and the Canadian government agencies are going to move at a glacial pace before doing anything because after all – what’s the rush? It’s only our wild salmon and the continued functioning of our Pacific coast ecosystem that’s on the line.

At the end, a reporter introduces herself as Roxanne from the Yukon News and asks if there is further testing done, would it come north and perhaps include the Yukon River? Dr. Kiley replies: “No, we do our investigation in Canadian waters.” Now I’m reassured – Canada’s best are on the job.

Credit: This post was originally published here on the Living Oceans Society blog.

Closing in on the future of farmed salmon

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Fresh Water Institute closed containment tank. Photo: Andrew S. Wright

Over the years, I have attended a number of workshops/seminars about closed containment. I am continually struck by how the conversation and language has changed. Far from being a figment of our solution-seeking imaginations, we are now witnessing the growth of a new industry and a viable alternative to open net pen salmon farms. Three years ago, DFO held a workshop during which a number of academics and industry people ridiculed the very idea that salmon could effectively be raised in closed containment facilities. The entrepreneurs and innovators in the room took on the challenge; the technological developments since then have been amazing.

After many years of refuting the very possibility of closed containment, BC salmon farmers now claim they are the experts and global leaders in closed containment, as this is how they grow most of their smolts and some broodstock (which are indeed marketable size), but still they claim that it will never make money. As time and technology proceed, their arguments become more and more feeble, just like the ones put forward by those who initially opposed seat belts or emission control devices on automobiles.

Last week, several members of CAAR attended the Aquaculture Innovation Workshop organized by TIDES Canada, which was packed with closed containment experts from around the world. We heard from numerous companies growing salmon in a variety of closed systems. Many more are in the planning and building stages. This dramatic spike in projects and producers shows closed containment farmed salmon is not a fad or niche market product, but will be essential in helping major North American food retailers meet the sustainability commitments they are currently putting in place.

The market demand is rapidly growing. For example we heard in 2008 only two major North American retailers had a Sustainable Seafood Policy, now more than twenty-five (all but a few) do. As these retailers implement their policy, many have committed to removing open net farmed salmon from their shelves within a few years. In fact, one grocery chain has said that acquiring salmon grown in closed containment is more of a priority than organic. Clearly the consumers are now the driving force. The race is on to be the first to fill the desire for sustainably grown farmed salmon from closed system technologies.

We heard presentations from seven closed containment operations designed to grow salmon commercially, as well as three commercial scale research facilities dedicated to fine-tuning the technology and determining the most effective and economical growing environments. The Freshwater Institute in West Virginia is raising two strains of Atlantic salmon to market size in freshwater, looking at variables such as light levels, feed conversion (which appears to be improved in closed containment), swimming speeds, water quality and densities.

It was very clear from all presentations that the key to healthy, fast growing and economical production is water quality. Economic viability depends on the cost of high water quality resulting in a high density of fish, providing large volumes of quality product.

The higher the water quality, the greater the numbers of healthy fish grown. Evidence is increasingly showing that fish grown in higher densities in tanks with appropriate current flow, are able to follow their natural propensity to swim in schools, resulting in less bodily damage and reduced aggressive behaviour, and higher fish welfare measurements. The densities of some of the trials are well over 80 kilograms per cubic metre. Current density in open net pens is approximately 45 kilograms per cubic metre.

Since most assumptions of energy use of closed containment projects have been based on out of date information and technology, it was refreshing to hear of a recent study, by Andrew Wright, showing about the same carbon footprint for an open net pen and a planned closed system in the same geographical region. The proposed integration of heat exchange and heat pumps will drastically reduce the required energy use of the closed system.

It is exciting to hear of the diversity of systems, of varying sizes and designs, incorporating such things as renewable energy, waste recovery, by-product reuse and aquaponics, which is the use of fish waste to grow plants.

It is very clear, both from this workshop and the Sustainable Seafood Summit last January, that the market is more than ready for salmon grown in closed containment, and suppliers and retailers are clamouring for product. Many of them have committed to stop carrying unsustainable seafood within a specified time frame, and are eager to stock seafood products they can be proud to carry. Salmon grown in closed containment, posing no threat to the marine environment or the health of the wild salmon runs will soon be the only acceptable farmed salmon on the market.

Yet another case for closed containment: St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Citizens gathered in Halifax last week to protest the Nova Scotia government’s approval of two huge new industrial-scale farms in St. Mary’s Bay, bringing with them foul-smelling bags of sludge collected from other salmon farms in the province. It’s come to this! Citizens hauling bags of sludge to the government’s door to try to get them to see – and smell – the unsustainability of net-cage salmon farms. (more…)

What is DFO doing to protect juvenile Fraser River sockeye salmon from sea lice infestations during this migration season?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Sea lice on wild salmon

Many of the juvenile salmon now migrating through the Discovery Islands are the offspring of the Fraser River sockeye that collapsed in 2009. This subgroup of fish with a troubled past are faced with myriad hazards as they struggle for survival, but adding to their peril (and of course the peril of all wild juvenile salmon) are the rising lice levels on salmon farms. (more…)

Closed containment technology on a more responsible path for salmon aquaculture

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

AgriMarine floating tank salmon farm

Closed containment salmon farms require an energy input for the circulation of fresh water and dissolved oxygen as well the removal of waste. In the media, the salmon farming industry claims this energy use creates an “extensive” environmental footprint. However, what they leave out of the equation is that while net-cages use tidal power to perform circulation and waste removal functions (at no cost to the industry) this practice in the open ocean creates a significant environmental footprint.

In assessing the overall sustainability of net-cages vs. closed containment, we must consider all environmental impacts and their potential solutions in order to determine the most responsible technology for salmon aquaculture.

The main environmental concerns associated with open net-cage aquaculture are: sea lice and disease transfer to wild salmon; pesticides and antibiotics and their impact on ecosystem health; chemical pollution; escapes and invasive alien species; marine mammal deaths; waste build-up and contamination of the ocean floor; the use of wild fish for feed; and marine debris.

Closed containment technology reduces or eliminates most of the environmental impacts of net-cage farming, with energy use and feed impacts the remaining concerns. However, solutions are on the horizon to address these concerns as the technology continues to mature.

In a world working towards green energy solutions and sustainable industry, net-cage salmon farming is a dead-end technology. Independent scientists, concerned citizens, First Nations, fishermen, conservationists, wilderness tourism businesses and coastal communities that depend on healthy oceans agree – the weight of scientific evidence is clear and it’s time to get net-cage farmed salmon into closed containment.

Click here for more information on closed containment technology and energy consumption.

Disease + Parasiticides + Habitat Destruction = Organic?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

You may remember hearing that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is developing organic aquaculture standards — standards that would allow net pen farmed salmon, to be certified as ‘organic’. Well, the second draft of Canada’s proposed standards is now available and it’s downright shocking how much the standards contradict even the most basic organic principles.


Salmon farm secrecy: Will DFO ever release the licences?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
net-cage salmon farm

Open net-cage salmon farm, Photo: Lara Renehan

Ever wonder how many thousands upon thousands of farmed salmon are stocked in net-cages along the BC coast? How many millions of Atlantic salmon are held in pens on the migratory path of wild Pacific salmon? Ever wonder why our governments seem determined to keep this information hidden? (more…)