Farmed and Dangerous Blog

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

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.

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.

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Proposed organic standards for farmed fish fail to reflect the general principles of organic production

Friday, September 10th, 2010

This summer organics hit a new low. With funding support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) members of the aquaculture industry developed their own draft organic aquaculture standards. The allowances in the standards—including organic certification of fish treated with antibiotics and chemicals toxic to marine organisms—would make any organic label reader turn pale. (more…)

Abundant Fraser sockeye returns in 2010 not a sign of general recovery

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Record returns of some Fraser River sockeye stocks have been making headlines over the past few weeks. With an estimated 34 million expected to return, this is in stark contrast to last year’s dismal return of only 1.5 million. While we celebrate, it’s important to remember that one good return year against a background of steady decline in Fraser sockeye over more than a decade does not signal recovery. (more…)

Canadian government invests 1.2 million in aquaculture marketing initiatives rather than sustainable salmon farming technology

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Canada’s federal government announced an investment of 1.2 million taxpayer dollars towards aquaculture promotion including a “salmon public relations campaign.” This investment in image management is a testament to the widespread negative public opinion of the net-cage salmon farming industry, as well as an astonishing failure on the part of government to invest in real solutions that address the source of the industry’s declining reputation – unsustainable salmon farming practices. (more…)