Closed-pen Salmon Farming
by Scott Simpson
Province keeps a close eye on experiment near Campbell River
A multi-million-dollar experiment now underway near Campbell River could make British Columbia the world leader in closed-containment salmon farming, proponents of the project said Thursday.
The project by Middle Bay Sustainable Aquaculture Institute got a huge boost last month when it was awarded $2.4 million of federal money through Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
It has already received $1.2 million from a San Francisco-based foundation, and institute director John Moonen said an application for a further $1.2 million is at an advanced stage. An application for yet another $2 million is already in the hands of the provincially funded Island Coastal Economic Trust, and a decision is expected by October.
Site preparation is already underway at a Middle Bay water property where a 5,500-cubic-metre aluminum tank will be situated and ready later this year for its first batch of young salmon.
B.C. Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pat Bell would "love it" if the project succeeds, but said the province is adopting a wait-and-see attitude while it proceeds with its own review of the technology.
"This is research," Moonen said. "The whole point is not to prove that it works, but that it's economical. It's the next stage, if you will, in salmon aquaculture."
Closed contained has been attempted for salmon in a number of jurisdictions around the world, but none of those experiments have met with success.
As an alternative to the open-net pens which are the global industry standard for salmon farming, closed containment is seen as a way to eliminate environmental impacts including escapes, seabed contamination with heavy concentrations of waste from penned salmon, and the transfer of disease and sea lice between farmed and wild salmon populations.
The project has the enthusiastic support of environmental groups, but is eliciting a guarded and even skeptical response from salmon farmers.
In May, a B.C. legislature committee on sustainable aquaculture recommended conversion of all B.C. salmon farms to closed containment systems by 2010 in order to curtail potential negative impacts on wild salmon.
Minister Bell rejected the NDP-led committee's recommendation, and said the province would not take measures that would threaten the viability of the industry or its 3,000 workers.
The project is led by engineer Richard Buchanan, whose previous experiment with land-based closed containment for salmon was ultimately a failure.
"I think the province should participate so that they can say they've evaluated the recommendations put forward by the sustainable aquaculture committee, and they can be involved in the assessment of it," Buchanan said in a telephone interview.
Buchanan said it will cost about $7 million for a commercial-scale facility involving five closed tanks.
Watershed Watch executive director Craig Orr described the project, which will initially focus on the capture of solid waste, as "a good start" to development of closed containment.
"We definitely need a commercial-scale trial to see if this thing actually works," Orr said, adding that the province could demonstrate that it's serious about promoting aquaculture and protecting wild fish by supporting the project.
Bell noted that his ministry is already working with Buchanan, "trying to get the appropriate permits through and make sure he has access to all the information and expertise we can provide."
B.C. Salmon Farmers executive director Mary Ellen Walling said the industry wants to complete a thorough examination of the results of past experiments around the world with closed containment for salmon before it decides whether the technology warrants investment.
She said experiments to date have been "disasters" -- costing the industry both money and fish, and it's not immediately clear how Buchanan's work will deal with infestations of sea lice on salmon farms.
"Because of the disasters in the past and the loss of fish, and also financial calamities we want to make sure we had everything in place to really review the technologies before putting fish in the water," Walling said.
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