The aquaculture industry and the environment are entirely interwoven – to grow healthy fish, we need a healthy ocean. Our farmers are committed to making environmentally and economically responsible choices that go above and beyond the industry standards set by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Condition of License. After all, the thousands of women and men who work in our industry also live in coastal communities and have a vested interest in ensuring that our operations provide stability and opportunity, and have minimal impact
Careful selection of sites ensures that B.C. farm-raised salmon are happy and healthy. Farms are placed in areas of high tidal exchange (strong currents) to prevent accumulation of parasites and pollutants. By choosing better sites for farms and making more informed decisions about feeding our fish, our impact on the ocean bottom has been greatly reduced to the point that farm sites can be returned to pre-stocking levels within months – and even weeks – of harvest.
Water Quality & Ocean Floor Monitoring
Salmon farmers ensure that their farms are located in well-flushed waters that meet a variety of specific criteria necessary for salmon to thrive, including temperature, salinity, depth, and dissolved oxygen. Applying over 30 years of knowledge to ensure fish farms are sited in the best locations, B.C. salmon farmers practice rigorous environmental monitoring to be confident that farms are not having a negative impact on the surrounding environment.
This monitoring is important for environmental sustainability and also for our farm-raised fish – healthy fish come from healthy oceans. As is done in land-based agriculture, salmon farm sites are fallowed after harvest to allow the ocean bottom and surrounding environment to recover from organic impacts.
Water quality on our farms is monitored vigilantly and daily records are kept and reported to DFO on a quarterly basis. DFO regulates, manages, and monitors local ocean floor (benthic) impact.
Changing Ocean Conditions
B.C. salmon farmers strive towards staying on the cutting edge of ocean monitoring technologies and actively participate in sharing information on oceanographic conditions where farms exist, for the purpose of generating knowledge on changing conditions.
Warmer water temperatures and ocean acidification can influence the structure of marine ecosystems, species ranges and distributions, the spread of invasive species, such as harmful algae, as well as the prevalence of pathogens and their vectors (ISAC).
2015 at a Glance
Extremes are becoming the new normal in the marine coastal environment, which is something that B.C. salmon farmers need to be aware of and respond to in their operations. Conditions in the marine environment have an immense influence upon the health of their fish.
- In 2014, an unusually warm mass of water known as "the blob" was situated off the west coast of North America (OWSC) and persisted for almost two years. By January 2015, the warm water moved to the B.C. coast, which likely affected wild and farmed species in the region (DFO).
- Global temperature records have been broken for each month since October 2015, exhibiting unseasonably warm ocean temperatures (Silberg).
- Rapid and early snow-pack melt resulted in critically low stream flows much earlier in the year than usual (MFLNR).
- Unique algal bloom patterns and algal species composition were evident (DFO), as were the changes in salinity and dissolved oxygen availability in numerous coastal areas.
B.C. salmon farmers have a zero tolerance policy with respect to escapes and have virtually eliminated fish escapes, with only three fish escapes in 2015 - two Atlantic and one Chinook escaped in three separate incidents.
Salmon farmers work towards ensuring 100% containment of their stocks at all times, despite challenges from weather events and predator interactions with infrastructure. This is an important, not only because the safe protection of the farm stock is integral to the viability of salmon farm operations, but also because of the environmental concerns regarding escapes from the general public.
Given that today’s salmon farms are constructed to such high standards with specific docking stations and regular net inspections, equipment failures and escapes rarely occur. When an escape does occur, DFO is notified immediately and steps are taken to recapture the fish. Of the low proportion of escaped fish that survive to be caught or found in B.C., over 94% have empty stomachs, indicating that their competition with wild salmon for food is insignificant.
Because of concerns raised about the possible impact of Atlantic salmon escaped to the wild, there has also been significant research done about those potential impacts. What has been learned is that Atlantic salmon have never successfully colonized in B.C. waters, even despite intentional releases by the federal government long before salmon farming was introduced to B.C.
Each farm has extensive plans in place to respond to large escape, which includes recapture efforts and increased surveillance of rivers and streams to ensure Atlantics would not establish a population.
Wild Salmon Migrations
Salmon farmers recognize their responsibility to minimize negative effects on the surrounding environment, which includes all marine life. The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River is a comprehensive, third party review of all factors that may have affected the survival of the 2009 return of Fraser River sockeye salmon. The final report noted that while there is no evidence of harm to wild fish, research and data collection should continue. B.C. salmon farmers have supported the report and its recommendations and are proactively engaging in research to further confirm the understanding that our operations are not harming B.C.’s wild stocks.
In December 2014, the BCSFA announced that it will invest $1.5-million over the next five years, partnering with academics and independent science-based organizations, to expand knowledge of B.C.’s aquatic environment. This funding announcement followed the completion of a series of priority-setting workshops that included 50 participants from academia, independent research institutes, conservation organizations, government and the aquaculture industry. With backgrounds in fish pathology, ecology, population dynamics, oceanography and genomics, these researchers will focus on five key research areas: fish pathogen transmission, salmon migration routes, environmental management, fish health reporting and information sharing.
Interactions with sea lions and seals are not unusual for marine users in B.C. These social animals are opportunistic feeders and will often show up in the same places that commercial fishermen, salmon enhancement volunteers, recreational users and salmon farmers are operating.
Our farm companies are working together to share expertise and strategies to safely and humanely handle instances of marine mammals on B.C. salmon farms. Farmers have marine mammal deterrent plans in place and lethal removal is always a last resort. In many cases, the steps taken by B.C. salmon farmers deter an animal from becoming interested in the farm and its contents. However, in other cases, particularly when higher numbers of the marine mammal appear, these measures may not succeed.
If mitigation and deterrents fail and imminent danger is found, the companies can have the animal removed in a humane manner. For B.C. salmon farmers, the decision to remove marine mammals is not made quickly or easily, and it means hiring a special contractor who is dispatched to the site. No guns are kept on farm sites in B.C.
The animals that can be found interacting with salmon farm sites in B.C. include:
- Harbour Seals - the growth rate in B.C. was approximately 11% per year in the 1970s and 1980's but has slowed or stabilized, suggesting that populations are approaching or attaining carrying capacity (DFO).
- California Sea Lions - the populations have been growing steadily and the current growth rate is approximately 5% per year (NMFS).
- Stellar Sea Lions - listed as species of special concern in Western Canada, the growth rate is approximately 3.1% per year (COSEWIC).
Sea lions, because of their size and aggressive behavior, can cause serious threats to the farm structures by damaging nets and cages, which can lead to escapes. They can also be threatening to people at and near the site, particularly divers who are hired to check all nets.
Salmon farmers are required to report any interactions with marine mammals to DFO, which are then audited and reviewed by regulators.
One of the challenges that salmon farmers face is bycatch. While a recognized part of any fishery, BCSFA members always have the goal of eliminating any incidental catch mortality from their operations. Through equipment modifications they’ve been able to decrease interaction significantly.