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Salmon farming is a form of aquaculture, which means growing animals or plants in water. Salmon farmers raise their livestock from egg to harvest – beginning in on-land recirculation hatcheries and finishing in ocean net pens along remote areas of the Coast. These fish are cared for by veterinarians, fish health technicians and the farm workers who make sure they are fed and healthy throughout their lives.
The world’s population is growing quickly and as the demand for food increases, wild stocks (particularly in the ocean) are at peak levels, or over-exploited. By farming salmon, we are adding to the supply of seafood and helping to meet the market demand without over-stressing wild sources. Currently over 50 per cent of the world’s seafood is farmed and projections show that this will be near 75 per cent in 15 years. While 30% of B.C. farm-raised salmon is consumed in Canada, mainly in B.C., 70% is exported to 11 countries around the world.
Farming salmon provides the world access to a healthy, lean protein year-round. Because of natural migratory patterns of wild salmon, commercial fisheries can only provide the product fresh during a few months of the year however, harvests for farm-raised salmon can be scheduled to bring fresh fish to the market quickly, any month of the year.
There are many species of salmon, including Atlantic, Chinook, Coho, Pink, Chum, and Sockeye. The Atlantic species is the farmed the most globally as it’s the species that is easiest to farm, similarly to how typical pigs farm better than boars and cattle farm better than buffalo.
Many attempts have been made over the past 100 years to introduce Atlantic salmon in various water bodies throughout the Pacific Northwest. These attempts weren’t made by salmon farmers, but by sport fishing interests. None of these introductions were successful. In fact, all purposeful attempts by Canadian and U.S. governments and interest groups to colonize Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Northwest have failed because Atlantic salmon are poor colonizers outside their natural range.
No, B.C. does not import eggs and hasn’t since 2009. Farm companies developed their own broodstock and hatcheries, in order to reduce the need to import eggs. When salmon egg imports do occur in B.C., they are subject to stringent regulations and must be publicly reported on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) website.
Eggs must be sourced from and accepted to DFO approved facilities where strong quarantine measures are followed. In addition, imports have to be approved under the Health and Animals Act, which is the responsibility of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Only eyed (fertilized eggs that are approximately 35 days old, where the baby salmon’s eyes become visible inside the egg) are allowed to be imported, and only eight facilities have ever been approved sources. Iceland is currently the only approved source of eggs for the limited import requirements of the industry.
Salmon raised on farms in B.C. have never been genetically engineered or modified. Our farmers feel they are producing a good quality, economically viable product as is, and there is no interest in pursuing modification.
The BC Salmon Farmers Association, as a member of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance supports the position statement approved at their board. That statement says:
This position is consistent with that of the International Salmon Farmers Association.
Salmon eat pellets made of nutritionally dense ingredients designed to meet the specific nutritional requirements of farm-raised salmon – allowing more of the feed’s ingredients go towards the animal’s growth and, consequently, less is released as waste. This science-based diet continues to evolve to address the availability and sustainability of raw ingredients, with 75% of sourced raw materials coming from within Canada and the United States.
Over the past several years, the suppliers of feed for B.C. farm-raised salmon have taken great strides to reduce the amount of fishmeal and fish oils in their aquafeeds, while maintaining nutritional value and increasing traceability to their marine ingredients. On average, current salmon feeds contain less than 15% fishmeal and fish oil.
The amount of fishmeal and fish oil that goes into that feed, and how much salmon is produced is known as the “Fish In: Fish Out” ratio. According to the Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices salmon farm standard “BAP-certified salmon producers shall obtain fish in: fish out ratios below 2.0. By 2016, they shall obtain ratios below 1.5.” All BAP-certified salmon producers in B.C. currently meet the 2016 standards – Fish In: Fish Out ratios are approximately 1:1, and as feed manufacturers continue to improve their diets and farmers continue to find ways to improve farming practices, that ratio will continue to decline.
The assessed quantity of wild pelagic fish that is needed to produce the fishmeal and fishoil required to raise one unit of farmed salmon is known as the "Forage Fish Dependency Ratio (FFDR)". In B.C., the average FFDR has decreased since 2013, and is well below the standards set by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, indicating a continuing shift away from reliance upon wild marine resources.
North American fish feed companies (that also supply feed to salmon hatcheries and salmon ranchers in the US and Canada) source fishmeal and oil from responsible fisheries. A major driver of research for two of the largest feed companies in B.C. is in seeking to further reduce reliance on marine raw materials.
Wild salmon get their pink to red flesh from the food they eat – and so do farm-raised salmon. The carotenoid in the shrimp and krill that salmon eat in the wild not only tints their flesh, but also provides important nutritional benefits to the salmon. For farm-raised salmon, carotenoids - astaxanthin and/or canthaxanthin - are included in the feed to ensure the salmon are receiving all of their nutritional requirements.
Dyes are never used in B.C. farm-raised salmon. A byproduct of carotenoids, which salmon require for healthy growth and reproduction, is a change in the pigmentation of the flesh – which occurs in both wild and farm-raised salmon.
Salmon farmers grow their salmon in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) for 12 to 18 months. If viable for market-sized production, land-based salmon farms may provide an opportunity for regions located away from the coast to produce fresh fish year round.
Some have suggested moving all B.C.’s salmon farms onto land. This is not required however, as current aquaculture technologies - used on land and in the ocean - help protect and conserve our oceans. While closed containment technology is important to our current farming process, raising salmon to market size (5 - 6 kg) on land continues to present challenges that would need to be addressed. Members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association are assisting and supplying local research and development projects designed to test the viability of growing salmon to market size in land-based farms.
The health and welfare of our fish are extremely important to our farmers. Veterinarians and farm managers have raised concerns about animal welfare in closed containment systems if grown to market size. Most proposed closed containment models are based on fish density much higher than currently used in ocean pens and using smaller tanks – meaning the fish would be living closer together and in much more confined spaces. As well, the constant circulation required to keep the water clean means they would never be given the choice to rest as they are in the ocean environment.
The footprint required to move the current salmon farming production on land would be significant. Ocean salmon farms are three-dimensional and take up less than 1 square kilometer1. To move that amount of production onto land, at the same density level for the fish, would require more than 22 square kilometers of land2. With land-based systems water must be re-circulated constantly, which requires a stable source of significant power. Facilities would either have to run on generators around the clock – burning massive amounts of fuel – or move closer to urban centres to connect to sufficient power sources. In addition, closed containment systems need to change out their water supply regularly, and more frequently as harvest time approaches – requiring access to large volumes of high-quality groundwater.
1 Based on dimensions of average farm, multiplied by number of active farm sites (14070m2 x 70 = 0.9849km2)
2 Based on footprint estimated in Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry, using stocking density of 15kg/m2
Alaskan Salmon Ranching
Aquaculture – commonly referred to as ocean ranching – began in Alaska in the 1970s in response to “record low wild-stock runs”. Today, cultured salmon are a very important part of the Alaska salmon fishery and represent a large percent of the annual catch of Alaska salmon. Cultured salmon are also very important to other fisheries around the world including, Japan and Russia.