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Salmon Farming and Closed Containment: CSAS to Lead Peer Review

CANADA - Interest in closed containment technology for raising farmed salmon in British Columbia has resulted in a unique partnership between environmental groups, industry and government.

The peer review process to assess the technical performance of existing closed containment systems, and to conduct a full economic analysis of their feasibility, will be led by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS). Participants include the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, Marine Harvest Canada, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, the UBC Centre for Aquaculture Excellence and Research, and National Oceanic Atmosphere Agency (NOAA) – NMFS, based in Seattle, Washington.

Closed-containment technology is being proposed as an alternative option for salmon aquaculture because of its potential to reduce escapes, contain wastes, and eliminate interaction between farmed and wild fish and marine mammals.

However, calls for British Columbia’s $800 million salmon farming industry to transition to closed containment have attracted criticism. Commercial closed containment technology is not in use anywhere in the world to grow salmon on a commercial scale; and pilot projects undertaken to date in British Columbia, Scotland, Norway and Chile have raised concerns about fish health and the energy required to imitate ocean conditions in the closed containers which are proposed.

Experts with experience in running past closed containment projects, such as registered professional biologist John Holder, say there are a number of issues which need to be addressed before the technology would be suitable on a commercial scale.

“The energy used to run on land closed containment projects are prohibitive,” says John Holder, RP Bio, principal of JLH Consulting. “A typical house uses 50 kilowatt hours per day averaged over the year. If the salmon farming industry, which now produces more than 75,000 tonnes/year transitioned to on land closed containment it would require an amount of power equivalent to run 32,700 homes or a small city with a population of over 100,000 people. That’s not sustainable.”

Scientists working in industry say that they remain interested in closed containment and welcome CSAS’s role in furthering its potential.

“When conducting research, individual investigators typically have different perspectives and observations,” says Norm Penton, Research and Environmental coordinator, BC Salmon Farmers Association “These differences in scientific perspectives may be confusing to the public but are certainly not unusual during the development of new knowledge.”

CSAS will work to determine what technologies currently exist and how possible integration of these individual technologies (unit processes) into a commercial scale application might work. Individual scientific reviews will consider the performance and dynamics of component technologies and how they would operate within the farm to address issues raised in past closed containment trials. Once the technologies are determined then an economic analysis and an energy use plan will also be conducted to ensure that there is a practical aspect to further research on this subject. These expert technical reviews will form the basis of discussion at a national advisory meeting to be held in January 2008.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association is encouraged by the co-operative nature of the project and believes the findings will help to address problems identified in past pilot projects as well as provide a structure for assessing new proposals.

“We are optimistic that the results will be used to guide public investments in future pilot projects and to assess any proposals that are brought forward by third parties for public funding,” says Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director, BC Salmon Farmers Association.

British Columbia has earned a strong position in the global market as a producer of top quality salmon. A report released by PriceWaterhouseCooper in April 2007 shows direct employment in salmon farming has more than doubled since the early 1990s and there are strong market prospects for the future. Production increased in 2006, up 16% over the previous year from 70,600 metric tonnes to an estimated 82,000 metric tonnes. Market demand has grown quickly and is greater than BC’s production.

As global market for salmon continues to grow, farming is a way to meet this increased demand without putting pressure on declining wild stocks.