Letter: Level playing field needed for aquaculture

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When considering the costs of growing fish, specifically Atlantic salmon in land based operations, it is imperative that there be a level playing field.  It can easily be shown that if ocean based open pen operations were required to be environmentally sustainable, without government assistance and no compensation for mass mortality, these farms would in fact be an economic disaster.

Letter to the Editor

Let’s consider a three point minimum requirement for the open pen industry to continue operation.  These points could have been made several years ago, and if enforced it is likely that most ocean pens would be shut down by now because of excessive costs or lack of technological capability.    The ocean environment and coastal communities would be far better for this eventuality.

Here are the suggested regulatory requirements.

-  Ocean based open pen operators MUST research, develop and install means of waste reclamation within a specified time frame and meet a recovery efficiency of 90 per cent of waste, or cease operations.

-  Use of pesticides for sea lice control that are harmful to other species must be discontinued.

-  There will be no compensation for mass mortality of fish, and no approval for the marketing of fish that are infected with ISA virus or other diseases.

Why waste reclamation?  Exactly 100 per cent of fecal and food waste goes directly into the ocean rendering the area uninhabitable by any other species.   No other living organism, including humans can get away with such pollution.  Waste in the outer periphery of the area is consumed by other species, including lobster, exposing them to poisons being used in the industry.

Why a total ban of the pesticides?  Cooke Aquaculture has used illegal pesticides, proven to be lethal to lobsters.  They have been caught twice, fined once, pocket change compared to their profits.   Studies in Norway have shown that accumulated toxins in fish from these farms may put unborn babies at risk.  In general, the toxins are foreign to the ocean environment and are no doubt harmful to all living organisms in the area.  Without the pesticides, sea lice would attack the caged fish by the millions, again rendering the operation totally unviable.

Compensation for mass mortality?  Roughly $120 million has been spent to compensate open pen operators for the mortality of millions of fish over the past few years.  This is beyond comprehension.  In lieu of compensation, Cooke aquaculture was approved by CFIA to market 240,000 ISA infected fish as close to maturity as they could get before they died of the disease, as an alternative to the compensation.   Capital assistance?  Cooke aquaculture was given a grant/loan combo of $25 million to expand operations in Nova Scotia by the previous government.   The whereabouts of these Nova Scotia tax dollars has never been revealed.

Now let’s look at the economic viability of land based operations vs. ocean based in this new light.   The land based operators ensure environmental protection in the design.  Ocean based are not required to do anything about environmental protection, do not have the technology, but if developed would be so costly as to likely result in an operating deficit.  Strike one.

Land base operators do not have to use pesticides.  Ocean based operators require these dangerous chemicals to kill sea lice.  Without the protection the fish would not likely survive.  Strike two.

To my knowledge land based operators have not received government assistance in large numbers and have not been compensated for mortality.  Strike three.

Will the Doelle/Lahey regulatory review framework require that the open pen fish farming industry meet the aforementioned requirements for environmental protection?  If they do the industry will shut down because of excessive costs.  More likely, compromise will allow the industry to continue to operate at a profit and pollute and poison the ocean.   Whatever the outcome, if the ocean based operations were to be totally committed to protection of the environment, land based operations would win the economic viability comparison by a landslide.

A strong appeal to support land based operations and boycott ocean open pen products.  This will send a message that health and the environment are important to us all.  Greed of corporate giants, coupled with government arrogance, incompetence and apathy has created this ocean monster.   As individuals we can help to bring it down. 

Fred Giffin

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Norway

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