Tag Archives: farmed salmon

Bruce Swift of BC-based Swift Aquaculture discusses his closed-containment salmon famring business at the recent global Seafood Summit

Closed-Containment Salmon Farming Highlighted at Seafood Summit


Last week Vancouver played host to the annual Seafood Summit, a global conference that brings together fishermen, seafood buyers, chefs, scientists, conservationists, and just about anyone interested in discussing the future of global fisheries. My film “Farmed Salmon Exposed” – which documents the myriad problems with open net pen salmon aquaculture – screened at last year’s conference in Paris; this year I had a chance to hear about potential solutions to the industry’s problems when I attended the panel discussion on land-based closed-containment salmon farming.

The discussion, which featured short presentations from a number of leaders in the emerging industry, highlighted both the encouraging progress of closed-containment salmon aquaculture and the real challenges it faces to becoming a competitive large-scale player in the marketplace. Most importantly, it reinforced a recent shift in the tone of the closed-containment discussion. As panel co-moderator Eric Patel summarized, “The conversation has gone from, ‘Is it feasible?’ to ‘Where is it going to happen, how soon, and how much can it grow?'”

There are a number of concepts and designs for closed-containment salmon farming, but they all share a basic premise of separating farmed fish from the environment by enclosing them in some form of tank system. These methods carry commercial advantages for operators, such as being able to protect their farmed fish from wild parasites, diseases, and other problems like low oxygen events and algae blooms that threaten their stocks; they also allow farmers to better regulate feed, and the fish waste they capture can be converted to fertilizers for sale or used to cultivate other crops as part of a poly-culture system.

Among the Seafood Summit panel were the representatives of three existing and future closed-containment operations. Of particular interest was Per Heggelund, CEO of Washington State-based AquaSeed Corporation. His company has been rearing and selling proprietary breeds of land-based coho for several decades and in 2010 was named official supplier to the Pattison Group’s supermarkets, which include Overwaitea and Save-on-Foods. The decision by the Western Canadian grocery titan to begin phasing out open net pen farmed salmon in favour of closed-containment was an important milestone in the development of the industry.

Also on the panel was Bruce Swift of Swift Aquaculture – a land-based closed-containment farm in Agassiz, BC. Swift is a small family-run operation that raises coho in freshwater tanks, while using the water and waste fertilizers to grow a number of other agricultural products – including crayfish, wasabi, watercress, and garlic – all without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or antibiotics. They mostly supply local restaurants, including famed Vancouver chef Robert Clark’s C, Nu, and Raincity Grill. Clark, who also presented at the conference on sustainability in the restaurant industry, has been an important customer and supporter of Swift.

The Swift family had a rough go of things initially, unable to escape the stigma of their open net pen counterparts – customers didn’t appreciate the distinction between their farmed product and the rest of the industry. Their experience raises another key challenge to closed-containment salmon aquaculture moving forward: the need to develop a third category of salmon in the marketplace, positioned somewhere between open net pen and wild. Through perseverance and cultivating the right allies, the Swifts have been able to overcome this hurdle. But the industry needs to be able to do the same on a larger scale – which likely requires both consumer education and developing a unique certification to distinguish their product.        

Finally, Chief Anne Mack of the Toquaht First Nation, near Uclulet on the west side of Vancouver Island, told the audience of her community’s plans to develop closed-containment farms on their territory (The Namgis First Nation are working on a similar pilot project near Port McNeil on Vancouver Island). Chief Mack discussed how her people are no longer able to live off wild salmon and other now-depleted natural food sources in the way they used to – which explains their interest in closed-containment salmon farming. “This project could help us return to living sustainably off our own territory,” she told the audience. Chief Mack also described the location as ideal in many ways for land-based farming, with good freshwater and brackish groundwater sources. The band is exploring alternate energy systems to help power the farms as well. While they’re still in the planning stage, the Toquaht seem committed and well-positioned to move forward. If they and the Namgis are successful, they could provide a model for other First Nations and similar community-based projects.   

Closed-containment salmon aquaculture faces several key challenges, made abundantly clear in the Seafood Summit session. First among these is scale. Can the industry grow enough – and fast enough – to replace, in part or in whole, its much better established open net pen counterpart? It’s clear that demand for the product will long outstrip supply – which is both good and bad. Any developer of a new product would envy the kind of demand closed-containment farmers enjoy from the outset – where the likes of Jimmy Pattison are saying they’ll take as much as you can sell them.

But the industry faces significant challenges to scaling up its operations – including technology, venture capital, and regulatory barriers. Swift Aquaculture may be the ideal model for the future of food production – a small-scale poly-culture system with a low eco-footprint, directly supplying local restaurants – but it’s an entirely different model than the current industrial-scale salmon aquaculture feed lots. And therein may lie the rub. Twenty years from now the only thing that makes sense may be small-scale, low-footprint, local food production – while unsustainable industrial feedlots prove to be a thing of the past. But that may mean years of continued environmental impacts from the open net pen industry before the likes of Marine Harvest collapse or evolve – an unwelcome prospect for those concerned about wild salmon and marine ecosystems today.

On the topic of scale, there is one closed-containment start-up whose system has the potential to compete with open net pen operations. Absent from this panel – but actively involved in the conference in other ways – was BC-based closed-containment pioneer Agrimarine Holdings, which I profiled in a recent video documenting the construction and installation of the world’s first marine closed-containemnt tank. This particular discussion focused on land-based systems, while Agrimarine has developed tanks that sit in near-shore marine waters, anchored to the ocean floor. The company began their research and development well over a decade ago with land-based tanks, but discovered that the energy required to pump salt water uphill was environmentally and cost-prohibitive (both Aquaseed and Swift Aquaculture have chosen to use freshwater for their coho tanks). Already bringing product to market in China, where they installed their first set of tanks last year, and soon to do the same in Canada, Agrimarine is bright spot in the emerging industry. And unlike the much smaller Swift and AquaSeed operations, a group of Agrimarine’s tanks – which range from 50,000-75,000 fish each at this stage – offers a production capacity that approaches large-scale open net pen farms.  

On the matter of economic viability for closed-containment salmon, there is much debate. A recent report by Dr. Andrew Wright (available here – second item down) surveyed existing off-the-shelf technology and concluded: “There is no technical or economic barrier to closed containment salmon farm aquaculture for the production of salmon. Moreover, B.C. is advantageously provisioned for catalyzing an industrial change and for retaining the new emergent industry in B.C.”

Predictably, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans – whose support of the Norwegian open net pen industry has constituted a major conflict of interest in the opinion of myself and many others – responded with their own report, downplaying Dr. Wright’s rosy outlook. But this is to be expected from DFO, which continues to ramp up its support of open net pen farms while denying the problems associated with them. While these various small-scale innovators in the closed-containment field may have a ways to go in terms of their unit cost for fish and their overall profitability, continued technical development and economies of scale will only improve their bottom line.

In the q&a session following the presentations, David Lane of BC-based conservation group the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation addressed the other elephant in the room, which is the impact of all salmon aquaculture on the world’s forage fish, needed to feed carnivorous farmed salmon. This subject was discussed in detail at an earlier session that day. Depending on which apples and oranges you’re comparing – and whom you believe, as the numbers are all over the map – it takes anywhere from a couple pounds to 5 or more pounds of wild forage fish, such as anchovies, sardines, and krill, to raise a single pound of farmed salmon. This is a challenge for the industry, whether you’re talking about open net pen or closed-containment farms.

Yet, considerable advances have been made in recent years to improve these feed ratios, and more are in the works. Soy and barley proteins are being used to substitute feed fish; and fish oils essential to boosting Omega-3’s in farmed fish can potentially be derived from algae. By-catch from other fisheries and leftovers from processing fish that would otherwise go to waste are also being used sensibly in farmed salmon feed. Moreover, by enabling less feed waste, closed-containment farms can help in this area as well. But much more needs to be done regarding the feed issue before any farmed salmon product can be touted as truly sustainable.

The most telling commentary at the closed-containment conference session came from Petter Arnesen, Vice-President for Feed and the Environment for Marine Harvest (global) – by far the biggest player in the salmon farming business and owner of roughly half of BC’s farms. Arnesen is a skilled operator who made the trip from Oslo to provide message control for his company – a task he performs far more effectively than the industry’s local PR flaks. His comments here were an interesting departure from what has up until now been the party line for the Norwegian industry with regards to closed-containment – that is, largely brushing it off as a wild-eyed pipe dream. On this occasion, Arnesen was considerably less dismissive: “Closed-containment is not the solution to all the problems of industry…The future of salmon farming is a combination of solutions.” He maintained companies that want to produce the kind of volumes of fish that his does will continue to rely on current methods – but even leaving the door open to some mix of closed-containment was a significant and telling concession from the world’s biggest salmon farmer.

My feeling is that – besides the daunting capital costs and challenges of reproducing the same scale of production via closed-containment – the Norwegian-dominated open net pen industry is reluctant to embrace this new technology because it could undermine the monopoly they currently enjoy in the market. Their vague declarations of “exploring” closed-containment call to mind General Motors’ experience with the EV-1, chronicled in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Like GM didn’t want the electric car to succeed, Norwegian fish farmers really don’t want closed-containment to work – for now, anyway. 

Today, these companies enjoy the technical advantages of decades of research and development of their open net pen systems and the ability to externalize many of their costs onto the public and marine environment. Moreover, as ocean tenures are increasingly hard to come by for new farms, the Norwegians face very little prospect of competition from new open net pen players in the future. Were closed-containment to become the norm, opportunities would emerge for farms near urban consumption centres like California, New York and Tokyo – which could open up the market to other players. On the flip-side of this equation, however, is the fact that publicly traded companies such as Marine Harvest and Cermaq/Mainstream don’t just need to sustain themselves – the need growth to satisfy their shareholders. And given these barriers to expansion of the open net pen industry, they may eventually have to turn to closed-containment to provide that new production they crave. It’s a catch-22 you can be sure the industry is grappling with in light of these advances in closed-containment.

The key take-away for me from this Seafood Summit panel discussion and my recent observations on the emerging closed-containment industry is that while it faces an uphill climb and likely many years of continued development to compete head-on with or supplant the open net pen industry, it’s headed in the right direction. The market demand and technical advances for closed-containment are encouraging to say the least. The other piece of the puzzle – much-needed investment capital – would help take things to the next level, though it remains to be seen from where and how much of it will be available in the near future.

Most of the people and companies involved in the closed-containment game came to it because they experienced firsthand the challenges and limitations of open net pen farming. It’s a solution that grew out of a very real problem. Whether or not closed-containment can ultimately work on a large scale (or whether smaller, more local operations are the way of the future anyway), the status quo of open net pen farming is unsustainable in the long-term – politically, environmentally, and economically.

If the Marine Harvests of the world wait too long to evolve with this new technology, they may well find themselves left behind.


BBC Radio Program – “Salmon: A Dirty War”


From the BBC Radio Scotland – Jan 29, 2011

Salmon farming is a major Scottish industry, but the battle over its
environmental impact is becoming more bitter every day. A BBC Scotland
investigation uncovers new evidence about Salmon Farming’s environmental
record. Stephen Magee hears how campaigners plan to put the industry
under unprecedented pressure, and how this multi-million pound business
believes it is doing more than ever to protect our seas and rivers.

Listen to radio program


Cohen Commission Told Fish Farms Likely Contributed to Sockeye Decline!


From the Times-Colonist – Jan 20, 2011

by D.C. Reid

Two weeks ago I summarized what scientists think are the main
questions to investigate in the 2009 Fraser River sockeye collapse.
Sixty-eight experts and observers did a heavy dose of considering and
submitted their report to the Cohen Commission. They have contributed
testimony to the evidentiary hearings, too, and this column tells you
what they said, and other factors.

Among nine hypotheses, they
crunched the available science from the early 1980s up to 2010 and each
participant opined which he/she thought were likely causes. They found
that where the fry were hatched and resided for two years and then
swam all the way down the Fraser River were unlikely to have produced
the massive kill. In 2007, for instance, the Georgia Strait sockeye
seine found only 157 fry from the huge Chilko River area cohort of 139
million fry that started out. And, surprisingly, millions of fry,
particularly the Harrison, take up residence in the Fraser plume, and
so its entire Lower Mainland contaminants don’t kill sockeye.

the ocean, it turns out that it is unlikely that marine mammals ate
them all, even though they snack on chum at the Puntledge River
estuary. Nor did unauthorized fishing outside our 320-kilometre
territorial waters account for losses. Later, up-river migration of
adults — as much as 600 kilometres — seems not to have killed many
returning adults either, nor affected the health of the next year’s fry
they spawned.

So what did they find? The most likely causes are:
marine and freshwater pathogens like viruses, bacteria and sea lice;
ocean conditions and a huge negative algal bloom inside Georgia Strait;
outside waters were ruled out for 2007-2009. Georgia Strait
conditions of algae, oxygen, salinity, acidity or other physical and
biological conditions are seen to have long-term negative effects on
survivability, though these conditions are not prevalent every year.
And this may help explain the 2010 bumper crop that no one expected;
and why Harrison River sockeye that transit Juan de Fuca have been
growing in numbers steadily for the past 20 years, contrary to the

Though the scientists thought pathogens were a big
negative factor, more science is needed to absolutely nail these down.
But it seems to be — wait for it — fish farm issues, say, sea lice,
and viruses. Environmentalist Alexandra Morton has asked the commission
to compel the farms to release data that they have been withholding.
It is the virus situation that is the nightmare scenario: farmed
Chinook salmon likely passed a salmon leukemia retrovirus to the farmed
Atlantics and they infected the returning sockeye adults. This is DFO
research from Dr. Kristina Miller. The sockeye managed the long swim
upstream only to die prior to spawning.

Another scientist,
Michael Kent, studying viral transmission, reviewed work that has shown
this fast mutating bug can infect dogs, sheep and humans. This is the
nightmare. Make sure you cook your Fraser sockeye well, and send a
letter to Gail Shea saying: fund more of Miller’s research, toute de

This is a fascinating, heavy crunching science report. If
you read only one table in your investigation of this issue, let it be
E-2. This table summarizes all the research for or against a possible
explanation and will inform your understanding of salmon science for
the rest of your fishing days:

Read article at TimesColonist.com


Building Future of Salmon Farming… in 90 Sec


On January 14, 2011, Agrimarine Holdings Inc. completed primary construction and installation of the world’s first marine closed-containment salmon farm (it has several freshwater-based tanks already in operation in China) at Middle Bay, near Campbell River. The event was the culmination of years of research to develop a more sustainable form of salmon aquaculture that – unlike the open net pen farms that dot BC’s coast – doesn’t dump its waste into the marine environment, and will minimize the transfer of parasites and pathogens between farmed and wild fish. Damien Gillis has been documenting the construction for Agrimarine and here condenses a two-week process into this 90 second time-lapse video.

The tank’s fibreglass and steel base is first mounted on a barge – which is then temporarily sunk in order to float the base. The buoyant base is pulled to the dock by tug boat, where the construction team begins bolting 24 fibreglass wall sections atop it. The completed tank is then tugged into place off the dock and attached by eight heavy-duty ropes to an underwater grid anchored to metal piles. Once secured, a 12-inch plug is removed from the bottom of the tank. Over the next two hours, water fills the tank as it sinks until mostly submerged. The top of the tank is suspended above the surface by foam-filled flotation cubes, attached beneath the top ring of the tank.

The company is now set to fill the tank with a first batch of Chinook salmon, and will soon be adding three more tanks to its Middle Bay operation.


Audio: CBC Ideas-Alexandra Morton & Saving Wild Salmon


For almost forty years, Alexandra Morton studied orcas near the northern
tip of Vancouver Island. Those whales eat sockeye salmon. When Morton learned
that these fish were endangered, she decided to save the salmon, in order to
protect her whales.

Last fall, during an unanticipated and completely amazing run of Sockeye salmon, Paul Kennedy visited with Alexandra Morton near the shore of a feeder stream of the upper Fraser River, in Northern British Columbia. 

Listen to audio program


Closed Containment Salmon Farm: First of its Kind


From the Courier-Islander – Jan 13, 2011

by Dan McLennan

In the world of closed containment aquaculture, it appears size
matters. Never was that more true in the Campbell River area than in the
past few weeks as a massive floating solid-wall tank was built on the
waterfront by the Agrimarine Industries/Middle Bay Sustainable
Aquaculture Institute (MBSAI) partnership.

“It feels wonderful,”
laughed Robert Walker, vice president for Agrimarine Industries, at the
Middle Bay site Wednesday. “It has been a very long time and it’s
exciting to see it. This is the first one in the world and we’re very
much looking forward to getting fish in it.”

After years of
design, government approval, funding efforts and redesign, sections of
the gargantuan fibreglass tank were assembled on site in the last two
weeks. The 3,000-cubic-metre tank has a 24-metre inside diameter and a
depth of almost nine metres. At press time yesterday, the plan called
for the tank to be towed into place and filled with seawater by the

hope to have fish in the water within the next two weeks,” Walker said.
“There are no other hard-walled tanks of this capacity. We’ve designed
it to address many of the problems that currently exist with the
net-cage industry. We hope to have a working system very shortly and be
able to demonstrate that we have a solution here.”
Read full article

Virus May be Hurting Pacific Salmon


From the Vancouver Sun – Jan 13, 2011

by Margaret Munro

Volcanic eruptions, giant squid and sea lice have all been invoked to
explain the wild swings in one of Canada’s most valuable fisheries.

scientists have raised the spectre of a mysterious virus killing huge
numbers of Pacific salmon before they reach their spawning grounds.

mortality-related signature reflects a viral infection,” a team of
federal and university researchers reported Thursday in a study into the
collapse of British Columbia’s famed Fraser River sockeye runs.

compromised salmon that appeared to have a viral infection at sea — a
phenomenon co-author Scott Hinch at the University of British Columbia
describes as “dead fish swimming” — were 13.5 times more likely to die
before spawning than healthy fish.

The study, published
Thursday in the journal Science, does not identify a microbial culprit,
but suggests the virus may be associated with leukemia and lymphoma.

“There is no doubt there is some form of pathogen involved,” Hinch said.

Read full article

Alexandra Morton Declines NDP Offer to Run for Vancouver Island North


From The Courier-Islander – Jan 12, 2011

by Dan McLennan

Outspoken biologist Alexandra Morton will not seek the federal NDP’s
Vancouver Island North nomination. After being approached by the NDP a
week ago, Morton announced her decision Tuesday morning.

the NDP contacted me about running for Vancouver Island North Member of
Parliament, I first said ‘no’ and then I reconsidered it because I’ve
lived in these communities for 26 years and I’ve seen how political
decisions have torn us apart and destroyed us,” Morton told the

“But after six days of over 1,000 people
emailing me – and I’m very thankful for all they said to me because I
learned an enormous amount – I decided that when I spoke, if I became a
political candidate, people wouldn’t know whether it was really my
thoughts and the truth as I see it, or was I supporting the party line,
or was I supporting a caucus member in the hope that they would support
me in another decision. So I decided not to run.”

Read full article


Response to Salmon Farmers’ Major New PR Campaign


From SalmonGuy.org – Jan 10, 2011

An Initiative of the BC Salmon Farmers Association Invites
the Public to Get the Straight Facts on Salmon Farming at their New web

“If it wasn’t so sad, it would almost be funny,” says
Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the British Columbia Salmon
Farmers Association. “Many people are being fed a diet of
misinformation and that’s exactly why our members have launched
www.BCSalmonFacts.ca, a new web site where we will separate myths from fact and set the record straight.”

In addition to the new website, members of the BC Salmon Farmers
Association are also launching a television and print media advertising
campaign urging viewers and readers not to believe everything they hear
about farmed salmon without first checking the facts.

“At BCSalmonFacts.ca people will be able to separate fact from
fiction,” says Clare Backman, Director of Environmental Compliance and
Community Relations at Marine Harvest Canada, a member of the BCSFA.
“It’s about time the real story was told.”

There are video clips and forums on the site with links to articles
of interest. On the forums people can post questions and get straight
answers. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.

So I suppose Backman figures that the general public won’t catch the
bias involved in this initiative? Or the peculiar coincidence that the
salmon farmers are under considerable pressure in the current Cohen

I tend to get a little chuckle out when I hear some company or
industry association carry on about how they’re going to: “set the
record straight.”

It’s a downward spiral. You are basically saying, hey general public
you’re stupid, you’ve been duped, you don’t know how to do your own
research and come to your own beliefs. You need to be spoon fed our
farmed spin to really understand the issues.

Read full article


B.C. fish farms blamed for sea lice in new report


From CTV.ca – Dec 24, 2010

VANCOUVER — Another salvo has been fired in the battle over sea lice at fish farms on the B.C. coast.

Just a week after a report was released clearing sea lice in the
collapse of the pink salmon run in 2002, an environmental group is
pointing to a new report that it says shows fish farms make the sea lice
problem worse.

Watershed Watch quotes a study by a New Zealand professor who looked
at the growth of sea lice on two salmon farms in the Broughton
archipelago on the central B.C. coast, which is on the migration path of
juvenile wild salmon.

The environmental group says the study found that farmed salmon can lead to a sharp increase in sea lice in coastal waters.

Read full article here