When I first heard about fish farming I thought of inland ponds filled with catfish. Then I learned that people were raising salmon in pens in the sea. BC had experimented with the practice but after a short run the industry failed.
At the time, The Steelhead Society of BC was campaigning against the overfishing of salmon stocks on the approaches to the Fraser, Skeena, and Nass rivers.
My fellow steelheaders and I did discussed whether this ocean based animal husbandry might offer an alternative to the plunder of wild fish stocks and ultimately supplant the environmentally reprehensible and economically bogus practice of chasing salmon around the sea with nets.
Chris Bennett, a lanky young sandy-haired salt water guide, was the first to raise doubt about fish farming. Chris made the trip from Central Coast to Vancouver every year to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Steelhead Society. He fished the waters in and around the Broughton Archipelago. His excursions took him to the former sites of fish farms that were part of the failed enterprise I mentioned earlier.
Those places are dead zones, he told me. We never catch fish there.
I remember his words precisely. Dead zone is an evocative term, when used to describe part of the ocean. It took me back to the time when I was kid fishing Burrard Inlet, when we watched beaches and parts of the sea floor shorn of life by oil spills and wood waste from logging booms.
I wasn’t troubled by those concerns until I heard that the provincial government was entertaining the idea of reintroducing aquaculture in our coasts. At that time, two members of the Steelhead Society’s German Branch arrived in BC. They were avid anglers of Atlantic Salmon, an avocation that took them to Norway, which had the finest Atlantic salmon rivers in Europe. The Germans told us that Norway had lost its best salmon streams due to the invasion of farmed fish escapees carrying disease they passed to wild stocks.
At that time I was certain that fish farming posed so many problems that it wasn’t worth pursuing, but thanks to the environmentally challenged corporatists in the Liberal Party, we were saddled with them anyway.
I can’t think of a single instance where the introduction of an exotic species has brought good to a local environment, but despite our protests, the BC Libs introduced Atlantic Salmon to the Pacific coast. A few sea surges later, some of those fish escaped. Hearing of this, I phoned Mike Lough, of the Ministry of the Environment, for confirmation. He told me that the catch of Atlantic salmon had exceeded that of steelhead on Vancouver Island’s Salmon River that year.
Are they spawning? I asked.
Well, said Mike, if they’re driven by the same biological imperatives as every other organism in the biosphere, they probably are.
Another big strike against salmon farming, but not the biggest. A few year later I came across the work of Alexandra Morton and John Volpe who had zeroed in on the fact that sea lice which bred abundantly in salmon farms were sucking the life blood from migrant pink salmon who had the misfortune of migrating within spitting distance of salmon farms.
Following this revelation came a heated debate. A debate, I thought, what debate? Why is there a debate, when one has only to phone or email Norway and ask them about sea lice? If you do that the Norwegian fisheries authorities tell you that, sea lice pose a serious problem to wild fish and that the fact that they do is the reason they fine farms that are especially lousy.
Killing the ocean floor; introducing exotic species; putting wild species at risk: It seemed abundantly clear to me that anyone with a modicum of common sense would recognize the absurdity of fish farming, then Yvon Chouinard added another nail to the coffin.
Yvon is very rich because he is very smart. He is living proof that smart guy can get rich and influential on the strength of brain power, creativity and hard work. Sure all the environmental ills associated with fish farming are important, said Yvon, but the average citizen is not aware of them. What those folks are concerned about is what they are feeding their kids.
I looked into it. When you contain so many creatures in close quarters, dye and fungicides are the order of the day. Oh yeah, and the end product doesn’t come close to the real deal when you want a salmon meal.
…continued next week. Stay tuned.