Canadians are eating more salmon than ever, but will it be home-grown from Canada?

Salmon is Canada’s #1 seafood of choice, and younger Canadians are eating more fresh salmon than ever before. Canadians know they love salmon but most salmon lovers don’t know that a large number of sustainable salmon farms in Canada that keep this dish stocked year-round in restaurants and grocery stores are under threat of having to close their operations.

“My previous research has shown the vast majority of Canadians love salmon and are eating it more and more, but they don’t know where it comes from,” said Dr. Stefanie Colombo, Canada Research Chair in Aquaculture Nutrition and Assistant Professor at Dalhousie University. “Canadian farmed salmon is not only highly nutritious, it is one of the most sustainably-produced animal proteins that plays a big role in the future of climate-friendly food production.”

Farmed salmon has put Canada’s aquaculture industry on the map as the 4th largest global producer of farmed salmon with production in BC and Atlantic Canada. All of BC’s salmon farms are located around Vancouver Island, and there’s a good chance you’ve eaten the exceptional farm-raised salmon from their pristine Pacific waters.

Sadly, there’s a good chance you may not do so in the future unless B.C.’s net-pen salmon farms stay open.

Here’s the story:

Seventy-nine salmon farms operate on the BC coastline. They’re all licensed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. But their aquaculture licenses are at risk of not being renewed.

Without a renewal, Canada’s ability to produce sustainable seafood will be seriously compromised. Worse, it would also be catastrophic for rural, coastal and indigenous communities that depend on salmon farms to drive their local economies.

Why could this cataclysm happen? The federal government seems to be ignoring the science and advice of experts in favour of the political agendas of activists. Instead of following the science, the government is undermining its own departments and science evaluation processes, pushing an unclear “transition” away from sustainable ocean-farms that does not agree with the peer-reviewed science.

This close-knit community of fish farmers, their families, and local residents need these licenses to be renewed. Without this, Canadian consumers hankering for their favourite fresh seafood will be left holding a bag of expensive, less fresh, imported fish.

What’s at stake?

Salmon is a big deal in BC. Farmed salmon in BC alone created over $1.6 billion in economic activity in 2019. There are few places in the world better suited to farming salmon, and BC salmon farms are a critical supplier of sustainable salmon. So why would Ottawa deprive Canadians of a food they love so much and is so good for them?

The closing of those 79 salmon farms would cost 4,700 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity, according to a report issued by Ottawa-based RIAS Inc. The fallout would spill beyond BC. 900 more jobs and $200 million in economic activity would be lost outside the province.

But there’s more at stake than simply dollars and job numbers. As Tim Kennedy, President and CEO, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, puts it, “BC Salmon farmers are committed to working with Indigenous communities to support Canada’s path towards truth and reconciliation.” The value of that is not something to which you can assign a dollar figure.

Thousands of families and many small businesses in this remote area rely on the salmon farming industry. The impact on Indigenous communities would be especially tragic. BC salmon farmers work in partnership with over 15 First Nations, and many of them rely on the economic boon of local aquaculture. If salmon farming was given certainty and vision for future development, it is estimated by the industry that another 50 of these partnerships could be formed over the next three decades. Without license renewal, that future promise is also lost.

Why is this happening?

The government’s surprise move was part of a larger plan to “transition” ocean-based salmon farms by 2025. At the time, the then minister glossed over scientific evidence supporting the benefits of ocean farms and instead cited a lack of “social acceptability” for ocean-farmed fish, while activists claimed scientific evidence of dangers to wild salmon from the farming.

Since then, new evidence has emerged that strongly refutes both of those claims.

In fact, formal DFO-led peer-reviewed evaluations and scientific studies conducted by independent researchers over the past decade all reached the same conclusion: salmon farms pose at most a minimal risk to wild Pacific salmon stocks.

What’s more, a survey of 10,000 Canadians conducted by Dalhousie University last summer found that consumers not only support salmon farming but also prefer ocean-based farms over land-based ones.

Clearly, there are some crossed lines between the public, the industry, and government.

So, for the record, here is why ocean-based salmon farming is so beneficial.

1. Farmed Salmon Bolsters Our “Blue Economy”

When you happen to have the longest coastline in the world, it’s essential to include the oceans in your financial planning. A blue economy focuses on sustainably working with the oceans for economic growth.

Naturally, the effects are most pronounced in our coastal communities, such as those in the Discovery Islands. Ocean-based aquaculture provides safe, reliable, year-round jobs that pay well and offer excellent opportunities for youth and Indigenous employment close to home.

Across Canada and beyond our borders, the demand for sustainable seafood – and particularly fresh salmon – is growing. In fact, seafood is the fastest-growing food segment worldwide.

There is only one way to meet this demand: that is through seafood farming, which offers a secure source and affordable, predictable prices. As an ocean-rich nation, Canadians would be foolish to give up our competitive advantage.

2. Salmon Farming Positively Impacts Our Climate

As consumers, we all want to make good decisions for the planet, though it’s not always obvious what those are.

But when it comes to seafood, salmon farms are among the lowest carbon-producing producers of food protein anywhere. According to Dr. Colombo, “Salmon farmers harvest one of the ​world’s most sustainable, ​climate-friendly food proteins.”

So, far from hurting our off-shore fisheries, sustainable farming eases the pressure on wild salmon stocks, allowing them the chance to rebuild naturally even as global demand for salmon rises.

And, of course, farmers are learning how to manage their farms better. Between strong regulatory oversight, 21st-century science, and incorporating Indigenous understanding, Canadian salmon farms are world-leaders in sustainability.

3. Canadian Farmed Seafood is Renowned for Quality & Nutrition

Did you eat salmon recently? You’re far from alone: 41% of Canadians surveyed in 2021 said they’d eaten salmon in the past month. Significantly, half of consumers aged 18–34 enjoyed salmon at least once during the past month, either at home or in a restaurant. People know good food when they see it.

They’re eating salmon because they know it’s healthy, a veritable sea-going superfood packed with vitamins, minerals, and those elusive omega-3s. As Dr. Colombo says, “Canadian farmed salmon is an exceptional source of healthy proteins and nutrients, and highly recommended by Canada’s New Food Guide.”

Canadian consumers are learning farmed salmon is easy to cook with and more affordable than they realized. Little wonder that salmon is Canada’s first choice for seafood at home.

Canadians trust our fisheries, too. Thanks to our world-leading regulatory standards, you can buy Canadian farmed salmon with confidence and pride.

What’s the potential fallout of the loss of BC salmon farms?

Beyond the immediate damage to the local economy, without the full renewal of all the 79 licenses, our salmon sector as a whole would take a serious hit.

If retailers can’t get Canadian salmon to meet the demand, they’ll turn to whatever imports are available. In the short-term, consumers will buy the salmon that’s put in front of them, either not realizing it isn’t Canadian or not caring enough to adjust their habits – either way, Canadians will still want to eat salmon.

Against the backdrop of soaring food scarcity and climate change, sustainable food is at an all-time premium. Canadian salmon farms produce one of the lowest carbon animal proteins. So, they should play a key role in helping feed the world in a sustainable way.

Here’s the bottom line: Canada’s salmon farmers are responsible stewards of the oceans, providing Canadian families with affordable, locally-sourced, nutritious food. This, in turn, creates long-term economic growth for coastal and Indigenous communities, and meets the growing global demand for safe, secure, low-carbon food proteins.

Isn’t that something to be proud of and a legacy worth preserving?

To learn more about salmon farming in Canada, be sure to visit the Love Salmon website for a full and myth-busting look at the industry.

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