Independent study concludes land-based aquaculture model not commercially viable

Published on June 25, 2014

Aquaculture is big on both coasts, but it appears some wild salmon in British Columbia and a number of farmed Atlantic salmon are testing positive for a lethal virus, according to a professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island.

Beginning in October 2011, Dr. Fred Kibenge's lab found that some wild British Columbia salmon and a number of Atlantic farm salmon are testing positive for segments of the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv), a lethal salmon virus associated with salmon farming worldwide.

Despite Dr. Kibenge's findings, federal and provincial government officials reported that they could not detect the virus in B.C., and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered an audit of Dr. Kibenge's lab. The CIFA later suspended the lab's status.

The virus is still a potential issue, according to the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

"It's been a problem on the east coast for sure," said the ASF's Sue Scott.

"It has certainly been around for a long time, and has devastated the industry in New Brunswick in 1996, and has followed the industry in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland," she said.

The problem is overcrowding in salmon cages, she added.

"Wherever the ISA comes from, it is exasperated in the cages, like flu spreading in a classroom."

There is a better way of growing salmon that's within closed containers, said Scott. There are entrepreneurs that are switching to closed containment for salmon, but she said the method isn't in Newfoundland yet.

(ISAv) is a naturally occurring virus that is sometimes found at salmon aquaculture sites throughout the world, and has been found in some Newfoundland and Labrador sites in the past. But the risk of ISAv is mitigated by using biosecurity measures, according to a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

The department stated ISAv is not harmful to humans. According to department officials, there is no risk to human health through consumption or contact with the fish. When aquaculture operators identify a potential fish health issue, added the spokesperson, they work with their veterinarian to conduct further research and address the situation.

There is a publicly-funded centre at St. Alban's, the $8-million Centre for Aquaculture Health and Development, which focuses on animal health, testing and monitoring.

Halifax—An independent report commissioned by the Nova Scotia government is casting doubt on the commercial viability of farming Atlantic salmon in land-based, closed-containment facilities.

The report by Gardner Pinfold Consulting concludes that land-based salmon farming operations — while technically feasible — would have to be large-scale to overcome the inherent engineering, building, labour and energy costs.

The report adds that the financial feasibility would have to be confirmed by observing the actual performance of a commercial-scale operation.

It also notes that land-based operations would not be restricted to coastal communities, given the existence of efficient water recirculation technology.

Keith Colwell, provincial minister of fisheries and aquaculture, says the report will assist the province in developing a new, comprehensive aquaculture framework.

The development of an independent aquaculture regulatory review began in spring 2013 and the Nova Scotia government said it expects preliminary work to be ready for consideration by the summer.