Research & Innovation

The BC Salmon Farmers Association holds research and development as one of the top priorities in maintaining a sustainable industry. The Association is committed to developing new partnerships and initiatives to increase the knowledge base on the environment in which our fish are raised, as well as continually developing innovations to increase production efficiencies and sustainability.

Use the links to the right to learn more about the research we are involved in and our program.


Constant Innovation

Compared to terrestrial farming, in Canada and globally, raising salmon in the marine environment is a relatively young industry in B.C. Over the past 30 years, constant innovations have rapidly evolved industry practices to the high standards seen today.

The sector is supported by a large network of scientists and engineers who are committed to decreasing environmental impacts and resource dependencies, increasing production efficiencies, and maintaining healthy, high quality, farm-raised salmon.

Continuous research and development initiatives are underway in the fields of fish health, land-based recirculating technologies, feeds and feeding systems, net design, and production activities such as transport, harvests, and processing.


Ocean Health –
Environmental & Fish Health Research

As our salmon are raised in the shared natural resource of B.C.’s Pacific coastal waters, the Association’s research and development agenda has a significant focus on increasing the state of knowledge around the health of the oceans and the wild species dependent upon them.

B.C. salmon farmers strive towards staying on the cutting edge of ocean monitoring technologies and actively participating in sharing information on oceanographic conditions where farms exist, for the purpose of generating knowledge on changing conditions.

Our Commitment

In December 2014, the BCSFA committed $1.5 million in research funding between 2015 and 2020 – which is to be utilized in partnership with government, academic and independent research institutions – in an effort to gain a better understanding of the marine environment and B.C.’s wild marine species, particularly wild salmon stocks. In building new partnerships the Association will also endeavour to seek external research funding to leverage these funds to the greatest potential.

The commitment in research funds (Marine Environmental Research Program) stemmed from the culmination of the BCSFA Workshop Series, which focused on developing research priorities to better understand the environment in which our salmon are raised.

The BCSFA has developed a formalized Call for Proposals process, overseen by a third party, recently instated Science Advisory Council.

BCSFA Workshop Series

Collaborations on the Coast

The BCSFA hosts annual research workshops to review projects funded through the Marine Environmental Research Program and engage other marine research groups to foster collaborations and research network development.

Read the 2018 Collaborations on the Coast Report.

These workshops stemmed from recommendations of the 2009 Cohen Commission – investigating the decline in Sockeye salmon stocks – particularly highlighting the need to build the state of knowledge on wild salmon health in and around the Discovery Islands region of B.C.

In order to gain a better understanding of the marine environment and B.C.'s wild marine species - particularly wild salmon stocks - research is conducted in partnership with government, academia and independent research institutions.


Research Priorities

The following research priorities were developed through the BCSFA workshop series and are updated on an annual basis at subsequent workshops.

The Association will seek research proposals for funding from 2015-2020, which meet at least one of these priorities.

Understanding endemic pathogens in wild and farm-raised salmon and their transfer mechanisms


  • Increase general understanding on pathogens existing in B.C. migrating salmon stocks.
  • Increase understanding of pathogens residing in farm-raised salmon to which wild salmon are susceptible.
  • Increase understanding of wild salmon exposure to farm-raised salmon and their pathogens (cross references theme 2).

Project Examples:

  • Conduct a quantitative risk assessment of the potential for pathogens that farm-raised salmon can transfer to and impact wild salmon.
  • Quantify the prevalence and severity of disease in wild salmon (and potentially other species) using an annual comprehensive wild fish health monitoring, establishing a long-term wild salmon sampling program.
  • Analyze historical and on-going stock assessment data to better understand population dynamics, and map to farm-raised salmon fish health events.

Understanding Pacific Salmon Migration & the Factors that Affect Migration – Sockeye, Chinook, Coho, Pink, Chum


  • Summarize what is already known about Pacific salmon migration routes and stock patterns into easily accessible information and work to coordinate continuing studies.
  • Increase understanding of wild salmon exposure to farm-raised salmon along migration routes, on the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island.
  • Increase understanding of events (food availability, climate change, predation) which might impact wild salmon survival along migration routes.
  • Increase understanding of co-migrations of different species.

Project Examples:

  • Further studies to understand routes and residency times of salmon migrating around salmon farms, and determining the exposure of wild fish to farms.
    • The above studies could be fed by a number of data sources: biophysical modelling, seine and trawl surveys, hydro acoustics, tagging, swimming behaviour modelling, traditional and local knowledge, and historical data.

Understanding the interactions between salmon farms and the environment and investigating potential impacts while developing mitigations as appropriate.


  • Increase understanding of changing oceanographic conditions in which farms exist (oxygen, temperature, salinity, etc), starting with baseline, historical information.
  • Increase understanding of the role of salmon farms in changing oceanographic conditions.
  • Increase understanding of the interaction of salmon farms with ocean life (flora and fauna), and building mitigations as appropriate.

Project Examples:

  • Understanding the dissolved oxygen patterns around salmon farms, and the influence of salmon farms on dissolved oxygen patterns.
  • Understanding the relationship between salmon farm presences and algal blooms, as well as gaining a better understanding of phytoplankton and zooplankton around salmon farms.
  • Understanding the degree to which salmon farms become reef environments for wild species.

Creating an improved and more accessible Fish Health Data and Reporting System


  • Create the ability in the BCSFA database to produce regular public fish health reports that are transparent, useful, understandable and trustworthy; real-time reporting would be ideal.
  • Update the BCSFA database to serve as an interface between the industry veterinarians and the communicators of the information, ensuring that context is preserved in the messaging.
  • Update the BCSFA database to be flexible and more consistent in reporting abilities, as well as to provide/include more context (types and number of tests).
  • Merge wild and enhancement salmon fish health data with farm-raised salmon fish health data for combined analysis.

Project Example:

  • Develop a comparative study of fish health data over several years for at least the Discovery Island farms to map against sockeye return rates and to compare fish health status with returns.

Science Advisory Council

Funding decisions for received proposals will be made by an external body – the BCSFA Science Advisory Council. The Council will review proposals and provide oversight on the use of dedicated funds for studies in the Marine Environmental Research Program.

Membership for the Council spans academia, conservation organizations, government and industry to ensure an inclusive, collaborative effort in funding decisions that also meet research priorities.

In addition to the Science Advisory Council, all proposed research will be reviewed through a third party peer-reviewed process for scientific integrity.

Members of the 2018 BCSFA Science Advisory Council are as follows:
(i) Vancouver Island University - Dr. Don Noakes (Chair)
(ii) Grieg Seafood BC – Tim Hewison
(iii) BC Ministry of Agriculture - Dr. Gary Marty
(iv) University of British Columbia - Dr. Tony Farrell
(v) Pacific Salmon Foundation - Dr. Brian Riddell
(vi) Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National - Dr. Jay Parsons
(vii) Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific - Dr. Stewart Johnson
(viii) Fisheries and Oceans Canada (retired) - Dr. Dick Beamish
(ix) Creative Salmon - Barb Cannon
(x) Marine Harvest Canada - Dr. Diane Morrison
(xi) Cermaq Canada - Dr. Barry Milligan
(xii) Taplow Feeds - Dr. Brad Hicks

Marine Environmental Research Program

Ongoing Funded Research

Spatial and temporal patterns of sea lice infestations on wild and farm-raised salmon on the British Columbia coast

Priority Met: Creating an improved and more accessible Fish Health Data and Reporting System.

Collaborating Organizations: University of Prince Edward Island / Atlantic Veterinary College and University of St Andrews (Scotland)

Project team: Prof. Crawford Revie (UPEI / AVC), Dr. Thitiwan Patanasatienkul (UPEI / AVC), Prof. Christopher Todd (University of St Andrews)

Duration: 2017 - 2018

Researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island have integrated data from several monitoring programs across the B.C. coast over a 16-year period (2001 – 2016) into a single dataset – the single largest dataset of its kind in the world. These data have been collected from over 300 locations covering around 12 regions along the B.C. coast, involving approximately one million fish captured; a quarter of which have been assessed for sea lice details. The analysis of these data should provide an integrated picture of sea lice infestation patterns on wild salmon populations in B.C., and allow for a more complete investigation of the factors contributing to spatial and temporal variations in infestations.

Investigation of these patterns in more detail will improve our knowledge of sea lice population dynamics on wild salmon. This may also provide for a better understanding of sea lice exchanges between farmed and wild salmon populations, in both directions.

Isolation of Aeromonas salmonicida and Piscirickettsia salmonis from farmed and wild salmonids in BC to support diagnostic test evaluation and epidemiological studies

Priority Met: Understanding endemic pathogens in wild and farm-raised salmon and their transfer mechanisms.

Collaborating Organizations: BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BC CAHS), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Elanco

Project team: Dr. Ahmed Siah (BC CAHS), Dr. Stewart C. Johnson (DFO), Zina Richmond (BC CAHS)

Duration: 2017-2018

With the further advancement in technology and understanding of the genomics of Atlantic salmon and pathogens that affect them, scientists are able to develop diagnostic tools at a finer scale than ever before. This is an important project to understand the genomics of pathogens endemic to British Columbia that are having an affect on farm raised salmon. The genomic data for these pathogens will inform the development of vaccine and treatment methods, as well as enable the identification of previously unrecognized genomic features such as plasmids in B.C. isolates.

The research team will develop specific diagnostic assays to detect the pathogens in samples of fish and later environment. In this way, mitigation strategies that include reducing therapeutant use, siting, migratory passage timing and pathogen flow can be developed.

For example, with exception of two B.C. isolates that were compared to Chilean isolates by Otterlei et al. (2016), there is very little known about the phenotypic and genetic makeup of Psal in B.C. waters or in native fishes. The Psal phenotypic and phylogenetic analysis identified two major Chilean clades from which the Canadian isolates are genetically different (Otterlei et al., 2016).

Acoustic Tags and Analyses: Use of acoustic tagging methods to study juvenile salmon within the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait.

Priority Met: Understanding Pacific Salmon Migration – Sockeye, Coho, Chinook

Collaborating Organizations: Pacific Salmon Foundation, University of British Columbia, Kintama Research Services, Canada’s Ocean Tracking Network, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Project team: Dr, Brian Riddell (Pacific Salmon Foundation), Dr. Isobel Persall (Pacific Salmon Foundation), Dr. David Welch (Kintama), Dr. Erin Rechisky (Kintama), Dr. Paul Winchell (Kintama), Dr. Scott Hinch (UBC), Dr. Tony Farrell (UBC), Dr. Kristi Miller (DFO).

Duration: 2015 - 2019

This research is based on cutting-edge acoustic tagging technology, involving implanting wild juvenile salmon (with a focus on sockeye) with acoustic transmitter tags, and deploying arrays of receivers that pick up signals from tagged fish as they swim by. This technology allows researchers to track individual juveniles along their migration from freshwater out to the open ocean, and gain insight into their behaviours along the way. The study will focus on observing the out-migration of juvenile sockeye salmon from Chilko Lake through the Strait of Georgia, Discovery Islands, and Johnstone Strait.

In 2016, this on-going project, for the first time, will use tags small enough to implant into 1-year-old sockeye smolts. Tagging such small fish will allow for a better assessment of migration behaviours of the entire population. The group plans to tag 300 sockeye salmon smolts and 100 Chilko Lake spring Chinook in 2016, which will be tracked as they pass deployed acoustic arrays. In 2015, new arrays were added to the existing network, in the Discovery Islands (northern end of Strait of Georgia/Salish Sea) and Johnstone Strait near Sayward, B.C. (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Map of all receiver sub-arrays available to track juvenile salmon in 2015. The red arrays indicate the new, dual frequency receivers deployed in 2015. Yellow arrays indicate those previously in place.

Figure 1. Map of all receiver sub-arrays available to track juvenile salmon in 2015. The red arrays indicate the new, dual frequency receivers deployed in 2015. Yellow arrays indicate those previously in place.

BCSFA has joined in providing supplemental funding to support this work which is part of the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project (SSMSP) coordinated by the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), see: www.marinesurvivalproject.com.

The overall objectives of this project include:

  1. 2015 to 2017: To evaluate the behavior (migration rates and patterns) and survival of individual juvenile salmon (Sockeye, Steelhead, and Chinook) in the Strait of Georgia, the Discovery Islands, and Johnstone Strait. Coho salmon to be added in latter years.
  2. 2016: Directly assess the migration rate and route of Fraser River sockeye salmon (Chilko Lake), to assess exposure of the tagged fish to farm sites within the Discovery Island region.
  3. Use results from assessments to facilitate array designs at finer scale resolution.

Investigations into implementing the use of kelp perch and pile perch as sea lice cleaner fish for farmed Atlantic salmon in BC

Priority Met: Understanding the dynamic environment in which salmon farms exist and investigating potential impacts while developing mitigations as appropriate.

Collaborating Organizations: Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, Marine Harvest Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, SeaPact, BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences

Project team: Dr. Shannon Balfry (BC CAHS), Sam Ferguson (BC CAHS / DFO), Dr. Simon Jones (DFO), Dr. Diane Morrison (Marine Harvest Canada)

BCSFA Steering Committee: Linda Hiemstra (BCSFA), Dr. Diane Morrison (Marine Harvest Canada), Dr. Barry Milligan (Cermaq Canada), Dougie Hunter (Marine Harvest Canada), Frode Mathisen (Grieg Seafood)

Duration: 2017 –2018

This project will be exploring the effectiveness of a local B.C. fish species to “clean” sea lice from cultured Atlantic salmon. This research is the first of its kind in B.C., and results are expected to determine if kelp perch or pile perch are effective in picking sea lice from salmon – a proven non-medicinal method for managing sea lice in salmon culture.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is partnering on this project to provide space for the research. Tank trials are currently being conducted at the DFO Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research in West Vancouver

The specific objectives of this project are to:

  1. Determine if pile and kelp perch will clean sea lice off infested Atlantic salmon
  2. Determine if cleaning activity is different between kelp and pile perch, large and small.
  3. Determine if perch have any preferences with respect to cleaning activity.

Structure and Function of the Salmon Farm “Reef.”

Priority Met: Understanding the dynamic environment in which salmon farms exist and investigating potential impacts while developing mitigations as appropriate.

Collaborating Organizations: North Island College Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation (CARTI), University of Victoria, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Demersal and Benthic Services Branch

Project team: Dr. Stephen Cross (NIC - CARTI), Dr. Chris Mckindsey (DFO), Ms. Kylee Pawluk (NIC – CARTI)

Duration: 2016 - 2018

Fish farms create unique habitats for marine sea life. This project seeks to explore how the aquatic environment around salmon farms is used as a new habitat for marine plant and animal life, at different stages of the farm’s production cycle.

The specific objectives of this project include:

  1. Provide a detailed review of the fish farm as a reef concept, in the context of the B.C. fish-farming sector, including a summary of how a farm interacts with the natural environment.
  2. Document the composition and relative productivity of the “salmon farm reef” across a variety of farm site locations.
  3. For each study farm, sample the “farm reef” plants and animals to identify species composition, relative abundance, and quantifying the differences in productivity associated with changing infrastructure and environments.
  4. For each study farm, document the change in reef community structure over time.

Marine reservoirs of infectious agents associated with proliferative gill disorders in farmed salmon.

Priority Met: Understanding pathogen transfer from farm-raised to wild salmon and from wild to farm-raised salmon.

Collaborating Organizations: BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences, BC Animal Health Centre, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Marine Harvest Canada

Project team: Dr. Simon Jones (DFO), Dr. Gary Marty (BC Animal Health Centre), Dr. Sonja Saksida, Dr. Diane Morrison (Marine Harvest), Ms Sharon DeDominicis (Marine Harvest), Dr. Marc Trudel (DFO).

Duration: 2016-2018

This research will see the examination of wild fish collected through sea lice monitoring programs as well as samples collected by DFO further offshore for their involvement as reservoirs of infection associated with proliferative gill disorders being noted in cultured salmon. This knowledge will inform further development of farmed fish health management strategies and produce information on the prevalence of gill disorders in wild fish.

The objectives of the proposed research are to:

  1. Determine distribution of proliferative gill disorders sources in wild Pacific salmon and salmon lice at various locations relative to marine net pens;
  2. Describe the occurrence of proliferative gill disorders in wild fish;
  3. Determine the genomic sequence of B.C. variants of proliferative gill disorders sources.
  4. Conduct laboratory transmission studies to identify and quantify (host and environmental) parameters surrounding transmission of causative agent between candidate reservoir species and Atlantic salmon.

Completed Projects

Use of hydro-acoustic methods to assess the migration timing and distribution of juvenile salmon in Discovery Islands and Johnstone Strait.

Priority Met: Understanding Pacific Salmon Migration – Sockeye, Coho, Chinook

Collaborating Organization: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

Duration: 2015 - 2017

This project will help develop knowledge of migratory pathways of wild salmon and the duration of their residency in the vicinity of fish farms with targeted work on Discovery Islands and the Lower Johnstone Strait. Most juvenile salmon from the Strait of Georgia pass through here during their migration to the Northern Pacific.

Hydro-acoustics offer a method of monitoring fish abundance, behaviours and distribution for extended and continuous periods of time. DFO is deploying hydro-acoustic equipment (multi-frequency autonomous echo sounders) on moorings to monitor juveniles salmon migratory behaviour in the Discover Islands and Johnstone Strait.

The objectives of this work include:

  1. Develop accurate estimates of juvenile salmon residence time within the Strait of Georgia and Discovery Island areas on a stock-by-stock basis.
  2. Assess the passage rates and residence time of wild salmon smolts in the vicinity of salmon aquaculture sites.
  3. Assess changes in water column usage and migration dynamics of juvenile smolts in response to local conditions (e.g. tidal cycles, temperature, plankton productivity).

Optimizing the Fish Health Reporting and Data Management System.

Priority Met: Creating a better Fish Health Data and Reporting System

Collaborating Organization: Centre for Coastal Health (CCH)

Duration: 2016 - 2017

Since 2001, B.C. salmon farmers have been collecting fish health and environmental data in a shared database. This wealth of information presents a great opportunity for increasing transparency and openness in reporting, and a platform to build upon for further data collection to serve many purposes. It also provides great insight into oceanographic changes over time and can be an important set of information for researchers.

The Centre for Coastal Health will be advising BCSFA on how to improve data collection and accessibility through analysis of the current database.

The overall objectives of this project are to:

  1. Understand fish health information and accessibility needs, and to determine the uses and limitations of the current BCSFA fish health database.
  2. Design new fish health reports from the BCSFA database that assist farm management, and aid in communications.
  3. Identify changes that could be made to the database to expand its utility.

Is Beggiatoa Matting Overtop of Hard Substrates Related to Fish Farm Biomass?

Priority Met: Understanding the dynamic environment in which salmon farms exist and investigating potential impacts while developing mitigations as appropriate.

Collaborating Organizations: Grieg Seafood BC Ltd., Mainstream Biological

Duration: 2016-2017

Current B.C. salmon farm environmental monitoring standards for hard ocean floor environments (rocks, or cobble) require monitoring of Beggiatoa (a bacteria on the ocean floor that can be seen with the naked eye) because it is thought that it increases with the amount of fish on a farm due to the increase in organic inputs.

This study aims to investigate the relationship between Beggiatoa, and the amount of salmon on a farm at a given time.

The research group is using sophisticated cameras that will capture data from seven different farm sites. Images are captured monthly during an entire growing cycle, including a fallowing period after all the fish had been harvested from each site. The primary objective is to analyze any changes related to Beggiatoa, if any, in the benthic environment at each stage of the salmon production cycle.

The overall objectives of the project include:

  1. Testing the assumption that Beggiatoa coverage on hard bottom sites is directly related to the amount of fish on a farm, and therefore the increased organic input;
  2. Considering the strength of the relationship between Beggiatoa coverage and peak biomass in the context of compliance standards to manage or mitigate the potential impacts of farm operations on the ocean floor.



Please check back for updates on the next activities of the Marine Environmental Research Program.