Environmental Impact Assessment and its Potential for Aquaculture in British Columbia

With a growing population and diets that are changing to more intensively produced meats, humans are using creative methods for obtaining food.  Long ago (not yesterday or the day before), humans spent much of their waking hours searching for, preparing, and eating food.  Nowadays, for some in the developed world, that time is reduced to a few hours per month reiterating take-out orders, waiting in supermarket line-ups and microwaving frozen meals.

An example of a contained, inland salmon farm system.

Traditional fishing methods were once sufficient for feeding families, but the process was time consuming.  Modern fishing vessels have allowed entire schools of fish (and non-fish) to be caught in a single pass of the ocean floor– a marvelous example of technological advancement.  An unforeseen side effect of this efficiency has been the collapse and near collapse of many fish populations.

To ensure the continued availability of fish for human consumption, fish are being mass-produced in fish farms.  Salmon aquaculture in British Columbia began in the 1980s, and by 1990, the number of salmon farms in BC rose to 180 (CAAR, 2008).  These open net pens of non-native Atlantic salmon have been controversial for many reasons: potential for escape and competing with wild stocks, pollution to the marine environment, and the spread of sea lice and disease to wild stocks.  Today, new technology has been developed to raise salmon in tanks outside of the marine environment.  Overwaitea’s 124 stores in Western Canada now source all Coho salmon from inland tanks in Washington, which use freshwater and they have subsequently received a consumer “best choice” by SeaChoice and Seafood Watch (Suzuki and Moola, 2010).

The practice is new, but it has the potential to maintain wild salmon stocks for tourism and consumption (Morrish, 2011).  These systems are, however, energy intensive and use a lot of freshwater, as well as a lot of other fish for nourishment for the salmon.  This is a great opportunity for an Environmental Impact Assessment to be applied and ideally aid in making informed decisions for fish farming.  Aquaculture standards are set by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and salmon farms are not required to go through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.  Under the Finfish Aquaculture Waste Control Regulation, under the Environmental Management Act, salmon farms also have authorization to discharge waste (Wilson et al., 2009).  They should be included in the screening process and undergo an EIA due to their ‘harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat’ which warrants an EIA despite salmon aquaculture being deemed not reviewable by the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office (FAO, 2011).  Operators are currently required to do monitoring, consult with the public, and describe impacts (FAO, 2011), so why skip the whole EIA process?  If a new fish farm were to be proposed in the ocean, it makes sense that an EIA should be completed and an alternative should be to build inland or isolated enclosures.  Following the EIA, a decision can be made.  If the BC government is open to moving salmon farms inland, then replacement class screenings could be applied to a number of fish enclosures simultaneously to speed up the EIA process.

Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. 2008. History in BC. http://www.farmedanddangerous.org/solutions/industry-reform/history-in-bc/
(accessed Nov. 1, 2011).

FAO National Aquaculture Legislation Overview. 2011. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. http://www.fao.org/fishery/legalframework/nalo_canada/en (accessed Nov. 1, 2011).

Morrish, R. R., 2011. Protect wild salmon by moving fish farms inland.  The Vancouver Sun. Sept. 30, 2011.

Suzuki, D. and Moola, F. 2010. Salmon farming may be a good idea after all.  http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2010/04/salmon-farming-may-be-a-good-idea-after-all/ (accessed Nov. 1, 2011).

Wilson, A., Magill, S. and Black, K.D. 2009. Review of environmental impact
assessment and monitoring in salmon aquaculture. In FAO. Environmental impact
assessment and monitoring in aquaculture. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical
Paper. No. 527. Rome, FAO. pp. 455–535.


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