The Honourable Jim Bennett, the MHA for St. Barbe and the Liberal Fisheries Critic in the House of Assembly, is saying that the province’s aquaculture industry should only use land-based or closed-contained growing operations in the future.
Mr. Bennett is basing his stance on Justice Bruce Cohens Final Report into the 17-year decline of the Fraser sockeye salmon in British Columbia.
Cohen recommends a freeze on salmon farming production on the Fraser salmon migration route and a revision of fish farm sitting criteria to protect salmon migration routes.
The report also says that, if by 2020, Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials cannot be certain farm salmon are not a threat to wild salmon, salmon farms should be prohibited from Fraser sockeye migration routes.
Bennett said that the Cohen recommendations could as easily apply to aquaculture open-net operations in this province too. He stated that some of the issues related to the industry such as the ISA outbreak in Butter Cove this summer could have serious negative impacts on wild fish stocks here.
Bennett said, “I am not saying that we should shut the current Newfoundland aquaculture industry down.
“What I am saying is don’t grow it any bigger than what it is today, maintain the size you already have and move toward closed contained or land-based aquaculture operations.”
Bennett said that research shows that there is a higher-end niche market for higher-end produced salmon products and that some people will be willing to pay for the sustainable fish products raised on land.
“There is a market for the higher end product, and we could be cornering that market. Our industry has an opportunity to become a world leader in this industry, to get out in front of other jurisdictions and now is the time to take this giant step forward.”
With concerns to a lower volume of fish from land-based operations, Bennett said, “The industry should not necessarily be concerned about the volume of fish produced. We wanted to turn out large volumes of fish in our traditional fishery too and this thinking helped destroy the wild fishery.
“All I’m saying is go slow, move to close contained growing operations which will also lead to jobs in the future. Besides, if the Coast of Bays already has close to 100 percent employment due to the aquaculture industry, why do we want to grow so terribly fast heading into the future? Where will the workers for the growth be found?”
Bennet said if he were Minister of Fisheries the government money pumped into the industry, such as the $5 million for Gray Aquaculture earlier this month, would still be donated but it would have to go toward land based aquaculture projects.
“The time has come for government to look closer at the research in this industry before they invest any more taxpayers’ dollars. We need a new vision for the industry, one based on new evidence in collaboration with all stakeholders. If done properly more sustainable wealth can be generated in our rural regions.”
RESPONSE TO MR. BENNETT
Tim Gray, the president of Gray Aquaculture, said that his company has been land-based farming for over 20 years with their hatchery, which is essentially land-based farming.
Gray said, “From a carbon footprint point of view, it is just not feasible for closed-contained operations to produce market size salmon.
“The energy we would consume would in itself outweigh anything we could do in the ocean. And besides, open-net farming is sustainable, so I’m not a proponent of the land-based systems.
“You can raise fish to a certain size on land such as to smolt size but you can’t do it beyond that. I think you’d be hard pressed to show one successful land-based aquaculture operation anywhere.”
Pryor, the executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, said (in a letter to the Coaster): While we do not argue that niche markets may in fact exist for this product, the number of customers who would be willing, or who can afford, to pay a premium for any product is limited and can only be sustainable on small-scale production basis.
Minister Derrick Dalley
The Honourable Derrick Dalley, the provincial Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA), said that Bennett’s conclusions are not based on facts and that the Cohen Report was inconclusive in terms of the correlation between fish farming and its impact on wild stocks.
According to DFA information, a 2010 DFO-commissioned study investigated the feasibility of nine different closed-containment aquaculture systems for full growout and compared them to conventional open net pens in British Columbia.
Only one closed option, land based recirculating system proved marginally viable.
From an environmental impact, the electricity costs, construction material, land use and disposal of waste are believed by many to have at least an equal, if not greater environmental footprint, than current cage aquaculture.
Dalley said, “We have developed a very successful aquaculture industry in this province. We’ve established a strong working relationship with the industry.
“These companies have made significant private investments, have created meaningful employment and right now our aquaculture industry is growing and has great potential for the future.
“Neither this government, or myself as Minister of the DFA, plan to jeopardize that and companies are not interested in closed containment. The reality is that closed containment is not feasible and, to date, closed containment for the farming of salmon on land has not proven to be commercially viable.
“Since 2005, aquaculture has grown in value from just over $52 million to $120 million in 2011. The industry is on course to again experience success in 2012, and at this point we see no reason, no scientific evidence and no conclusions that would suggest we should stop what we are doing.”
MHA Tracey Perry
Tracey Perry, the MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune, said, “Our aquaculture industry is a world leader now, and I believe we are proceeding in an environmentally friendly manner.
“While we will continue to explore every opportunity that is before us people with expertise in the industry have evaluated land based farming systems and have concluded that these systems have not proven to be commercially viable.
“The value of this industry continues to rise, the biosecurity protocols in use are some of the highest in the country and the world, and our government practices due diligence in managing and regulating the industry.
Mr. Bennett also talks about the future growth in land-based systems for rural Newfoundland. If land based farming becomes economically viable, then there is no economic advantage to establishing such facilities in the province. It would make greater sense to place such farms close to major markets to take advantage of lower transportation costs and to provide fresh product daily to major centers.”