Opinion

Fish farmers can take criticism, but not the B.S.

Sunday dinner probably wasn’t sitting well in the stomachs of local fish farmers when they sat down to watch 60 Minutes.

You never know how these things will go when you’re under the microscope of an American “newsmagazine” program.

In a way it’s like taking a fresh salmon to a new friend’s home to be barbecued: Are they going to cook it to perfection on a cedar plank or will they skewer and burn it to an inedible crisp?

I’m thinking that after the 60 Minutes course was served, it wasn’t unpalatable, but I doubt the fish farmers were asking for second helpings.

They had every right to have that knot of nervousness before the program aired because fish farming is an important business to Campbell River and much of the North Island – and Americans are the biggest buyers of our farmed salmon.

If the CBS producers put a “positive spin” on finfish aquaculture, sales might go up, but if the industry is vilified, well, layoff notices may follow.

The segment seemed balanced enough, but I doubt that Americans really know, or care, too much about where their salmon is coming from. What they want is fresh fish when they go out to their favourite restaurants and our local salmon farms can provide that product year-round.

The industry has come a long way since I first started writing about fish farming in the late 1990s. Back then it was more a wild west show than the polished corporate structure of today.

The majority of the changes have been for the better, but there will always be concern about siting fish farms along the migratory routes of wild salmon, the spread of disease – back and forth – and the possible proliferation of sea lice.

Fish farmers are rightly concerned about these things as well and have taken a variety of steps to mitigate negative effects. As well, the industry steps up like few others to address the criticisms launched in their direction.

I’m not an advocate or critic of salmon farming, but one falsehood that keeps coming up is galling – the assertion that escaped farmed salmon are living in many island rivers and streams.

The latest so-called study, “Occupancy dynamics of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian Pacific coastal salmon streams: implications for sustained invasions,” suggests that fish farmers underestimate the number of escapees and these rogue salmon are living in local streams for multiple years.

I say B.S.

I didn’t pay $39.95 to read the entire report, but the abstract makes it clear the data used for the study is far from reliable or accurate. It’s guesswork at best and it ignores the best evidence that Atlantic salmon don’t survive out here.

In the early part of the 20th century millions of Atlantic salmon were introduced into many B.C. rivers in the hope of creating another viable wild salmon fishery. It never happened.

Let me repeat: Never happened.

If the researchers want to take another approach, they should visit my old stomping grounds along the Credit River in Mississauga. There, they’re trying to reintroduce native Atlantic salmon. It’s a real struggle because this species competes against introduced Pacific chinook and coho which thrive. Go figure.

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