ASF concerned about virus outbreak

Clayton Hunt
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Inviting industry leaders to discuss issues

The Atlantic Salmon Federation says there needs to be open discussion between fish farming companies and Atlantic Canadians following a virus outbreak among farmed salmon. — TC Media file photo

The president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) says Fisheries Minister Darin King has made some misleading statements about a viral outbreak at a Gray Aquaculture site in the Coast of Bays.

Bill Taylor said the ASF is concerned with King saying the outbreak of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) was just a cost of doing business, and that the virus contracted by the farmed fish came from wild salmon.

“This is a complete fallacy, unfounded by science,” he said, “and we have a grave concern with the statement. There has been only one documented case of an ISA outbreak in wild salmon, so it’s not a disease that originates in the wild.

“Wild salmon only get ISA under extremely stressful conditions,” said Taylor.”

The only detection of ISA in wild Atlantic salmon was a result of the wild fish coming into contact with farmed infected salmon during the outbreak in New Brunswick in the late 1990s.

“There is no doubt — ISA is a farmed salmon problem. The disease has reared its ugly head wherever there are salmon farming industries, beginning with Norway and spreading to Scotland, the Faroes, Chile, Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and now Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Taylor said the problem stems mainly from open pen salmon farming.

“When you put tens of thousands of salmon in confined space, they are stressed and disease will break out in a significant way and that’s what happened at Butter Cove,” he said.

“Wherever open pen net aquaculture has been undertaken, there has been huge environmental consequences to pay. I think for Minister King to say that the outbreaks of ISA are going to happen and that it’s just a case of doing business is very irresponsible and very misleading to the public.”

The ASF doesn’t support open pen salmon farming, he said.

“We certainly recognize the many benefits of salmon aquaculture in that it is providing jobs and it is a good food product. There are alternatives to open net pen aquaculture, such as raising salmon in land based operations.”

Glenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture, says it isn’t feasible to raise production fish for market in land-based environments. In a statement, Cooke said that’s because the environmental impact of land-based salmon farming is greater because of the electricity that is required to pump, heat, cool, recirculate and filter water, as well as the need to dispose of waste.

Taylor countered that Cooke’s statement is also misleading, arguing that he exaggerated the costs for land-based aquaculture.

“Mr. Cooke is referring to studies done several years ago and technologies have improved considerably since then.

“The carbon footprint of land-based aquaculture is not as significant as many people might believe,” he said.

“We’ve been running a partnership between the Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute and West Virginia where we are raising salmon on land in closed containment. We’ve been able to do it cost competitively, so if we can do it I’m sure others can, too.

“We’re producing healthy, unstressed fish, free of disease and sea lice, without vaccines, harsh chemicals and antibiotics in closed-containment on land.

“For the past 14 months we’ve been farming Atlantic salmon on land in closed containment. These fish can’t escape into the wild. Our water is all recirculated and recycled, and all the uneaten food and feces is collected.”

Taylor said harsh vaccines or chemicals haven’t been needed.

“Our product that has gone to market has received rave reviews from consumers and executive chefs across the country.”

He said some of these land-based closed containment systems are starting to pop up around the world and grounds are being broken for facilities in the United States and Canada.

“We’re looking at operations that can raise between three and five thousand tonnes of salmon annually. Entrepreneurs are doing this, and they would not be in the industry if they didn’t think it would be cost competitive.”

Need to talk

Taylor said he does agree with Cooke when he says that Atlantic Canadians and farming companies deserve a respectful conversation about the realities of fish farming.

“There needs to be that open and frank dialogue, and we need to think outside the box on many issues facing aquaculture,” he said.

“I would say to industry leaders as a whole that there needs to be an open and frank discussion between industry, the public, government leaders and environmental groups about aquaculture development moving forward.”

Taylor said the ASF is hosting a workshop Oct. 11 and 12 at its headquarters in St. Andrew’s, N.B.

“We are bringing in fish farmers, provincial, federal and state politicians from the east coast of North America to get up to speed on current technologies and to deal with some of the key issues related to the industry.”

The Coaster

Organizations: Atlantic Salmon Federation, Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Norway, Scotland Faroes Chile Maine Nova Scotia Newfoundland and Labrador West Virginia United States Canada North America

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Recent comments

  • Casey
    September 01, 2012 - 10:51

    Thanks for the education on salmon spawning:) How can you compare thousands of anglers getting a few salmon each season to thousands of fishermen making a living for their families and keeping their historic communities alive? Your perspective is limited to say the least! Tell us how a single angler adds thousands of dollars to the economy each year. At best it is just turning over money that is already in the region, not new money brought in be exporting salmon. Salmon fishermen from NS came over to the Humber River for years, camped out in their trailers with their NS beer and in many cases their own groceries. Outfitters are few compared with the number of people who have and want to use this resource to provide their families with a much needed income. Of course we are all to swallow this Gardnert Pinfold study as if there could be no self serving groups like yours involved.Look at these numbers a bit closer and see what you come up with. For hundreds of years commercial salmon fishing was carried out in NL, with gillnets set from Northern Labrador and around the island. There were still a lot of salmon in the rivers. For the last 20 years there have been next to no gillnets, yet people like you claim there are no salmon in the rivers. Somebody is missing something here.I suspect the salmon is not as well understood as you would have us believe. Maybe you can go to White Bay in late June and let the locals show you how many salmon there are, with no one allowed to catch one for the table. It really is sickening to see what has happened to outport NL, and people like you play a part in that. Thren there is that great value of catch and release, where a big grown man gets to hook a salmon, torture it for hours and then finally drag it to shore and release it. A bit out of touch with reality most would say. How would you like it if someone snagged a hook in your lip and dragged you around for hours? That salmon may survive but may never recover. People like you and your group have got propoganda, government and big money on your side and that is how you are robbing the people of the outports of their resource. Sleep well!

    • Get Real
      September 06, 2012 - 19:42

      It's really simple Casey. Angling is a sustainable activity, generating revenue in the economy and allowing ALL citizens of the province to practive an activity of traditional and cultural importance. Netting is unsustainable and can only be practived by the privildged few. Salmon fishermen come here from all over the world, bringing in new money, and the recycled money you refer to is kept within our province instead of being spent on trips elsewhere. If you feel there are flaws with the audited independent study, raise some funds and conduct your own. Stocks are nowhere near pre-moratorium levels. I've been to White Bay in June, both before the moratorium and since, and speaking from first hand experience, the populations there are a shadow of what they were previously. I didn't decimate the salmon stocks - the commercial fishermen did. They have noone to blame but themselves for allowing the stocks to be depleted to the levels they are. I was one of the voices calling for the closure of the commercial fishery, and as I recall, the commercial interests were either asking for money in compensation (which the vast vast majortiy accepted) or fighting for the right to catch the last salmon. There are no salmon that I'm aware of being dragged around by the lip for hours, releases, when done responsibly, are completed in minutes, with no harm done to the salmon. Don't lump conservationists in with those that abuse the resource. I'm sure that salmon prefer being played for a short period over being suffocated in a gill net. I sleep well, knowing that I played a part in saving a resource that was destined to go the way of the great Auk and the Newfoundland wolf. My grandchildren will have the opportunity to enjoy the same recreational activities I do. Due to the greed of the few, they won't have the opportunity to commercially harvest salmon as has been done in the past. I'm sure that sits just fine with you. Your type are never satisfied until they extract any possible profit for themselves regardless of the price to others, let alone the resource. Thankfully, that thinking is dieing off.

    • Casey
      September 07, 2012 - 16:55

      How is angling generating revenue for the people of the outports? Oh I know all that revenue is used to upgrade their roads and get indusrty started, right? Yea it really is simple. LOL. Thanks for the advice on getting my own study done on the stocks, lots of reality there. Gill Netting was used for generations to provide an income for outport people so why couldn't it do so again? Why do people like you want to shut-down a way of life forever? I don't suppose it would have anything to do with greed or selfishness, no couldn't be. Also I feel priveled to be in contact with a real NL hero who is working diligently to save the last Atlantic Salmon from those greedy outport fishermen. I no longer work in the fishery, however, I am concerned that our wonderful federal government and people like you are working to destroy what is left of outport NL. No you didn't decimate the stocks but people like you sure played a role in shutting down any chance the outport people have of going back to a sustainable fishery. I would not expect a full fledged commercial fishery, but at least a fishery at some level. Someting is wrong in your estmates of the stocks, because if you take all those ginets from the coastline for 20 years then there has to be a lot of salmon and there is. Asd for compensation it was a pittance compared to what could be made in a viable and heathy fishery

  • Casey
    August 24, 2012 - 14:39

    A very small subset? Get real. Years ago salmon fishing stood next to Cod as the mainstay of NL. Many have left but some remain. Do you honestly believe that all Atlantic Salmon go up river year after year? The profit from sports fishing goes to a few lodge eperators. Then there are those real men who like to catch and release, get real yourself. Try berry picking.

    • Get Real
      August 28, 2012 - 16:33

      Years ago there were 20X as many salmon in our rivers and yes Casey, commercial fishermen are a very small subset of users of the resource. 15,000 anglers in NL, hundreds of guides and dozens of outfitters, all enjoying the resource with mimimal destruction of the stocks. A single angler adds hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the economy at a cost of 4 -6 fish maximum (a maximum amount of between 60 - 80,000 fish, but in reality less than 1/2 that are killed). A recent study by Gardner Pinfold put the value of salmon angling in NL at over $32 million. To earn the same amount at $3 pound with a 8 lb average (and that's being generous), commercial harvesters would have to destroy 1.3 million fish annually to equal that amount. That's over 1/2 of the estmated total population of wild salmon in our province. That is clearly not sustainable. It's your type of thinking that has reduced our once abundant stocks to the pitiful few there are today. I'll give you a free biology lesson in addition to economics. Salmon spawn only in rivers, and yes, they do go up the rivers year after year. 'Get real' indeed. I think that you Casey, could use a dose of reality. It doesn't agree with your delusions of abundance.

  • Casey
    August 02, 2012 - 16:27

    Yes Mr. Taylor there is an alternative to farmed salmon. It is called a Commercial Salmon Fishery. People of the NE coasdt have been reporting huge numbers of salmon in the harbours and coves around NL for years now, yet they can't catch one for the table. Fishermen in the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and In Greeland can catch salmon but not NL's fishermen. If they do they are branded asd criminals. These so called Salmon Preservation groups need to start telling the whole story. There are lots of Atlantic Salmon around NL and the people of the outports should be able to make a living from their own resource.

    • Get real
      August 06, 2012 - 14:26

      Salmon stocks have not returned to a level sufficient to maintain a commercial harvest. Anecdotal accounts from 'people' on the NE coast does not agree with the data from counting fences. Fishermen are only a very small subset of those that use salmon. Those few that want to harvest for profit wish to do so at the expense of the enjoyment of thousands. That's simply not right, nor would doing so be the best use of the resource. It is absurd as suggesting cutting down the trees in a park so that a saw mill operator could profit. Paul, stop defending the indefensible. Nobody is opposed to aquaculture, they are only opposed to open pen aquaculture. If the industry cannot farm fish in a manner that does not affect the environment or other species negatively, they should bot be doing it. You seem to be suggesting that Canada's environmental standards should be lowered to allow our industry to compete with third world producers. Sorry, but no insudtry is worth lowering our standards to those levels.

  • Mark Ham
    August 01, 2012 - 09:50

    Is there any reason to believe that facts and science would influence the message a minister wants to deliver?

  • Paul
    August 01, 2012 - 09:41

    Mr. Taylor claims that land based systems are a viable option for the salmon farming industry based on recent research in Virginia. That would be great if it proves to be true. however for many years, opponents to salmon farming have claimed that land based systems are the way to go when in fact they have not been...the cost of pumping water itself is prohibitive, in the scale of operations required to produce the amount of salmon that the market demands. here is a scholarly article (not an op ed...) on the subject... IF alternate methods do prove viable, you can bet that the industry will try them out for themselves. but up to now, its been a hallmark of industry opponents , to call for transition to land based or closed containment systems, when it was simply not a viable option to do so, and which would have been the end of the industry...which I do believe is the ultimate goal of the anti-salmon farming lobby.

  • Paul
    August 01, 2012 - 07:55

    if there has only been one documented case of ISA in Wild salmon, yet its prevalent in farmed salmon, what is his problem? its obvious that the risk of transmission from farmed to wild salmon is low based on his own statement. its also low for the very fact that wild salmon are not concentrated like farmed salmon, which is a key factor to it being a problem with farmed salmon in the first place. let us not fly off with fear and paranoia. careful examination of facts is necessary. ISA does originate in wild fish. ALL diseases that farmed fish experience originate in the wild environment, just that when farmed fish become exposed, they can become infected and transmit to others because of the density in the cages, or poor site location, poor husbandry, etc...conditions absent outside the cages. If the NL salmon industry was not taking steps to avoid ISA, it would have wiped out the industry long ago. The fact that its only now, and only a small number of fish on one site, that its been detected before spreading further, speaks volumes for how well the industry is run in NL.