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CANADIAN salmon producers have responded to growing demands from environmental organisations to move salmon production to on-shore ‘closed containment’ systems by explaining their position on the subject.

In a statement, BC Salmon Farmers say: “The world's demand for seafood is growing and wild stocks are being stretched to their limit. That's a reality that more and more people understand - and those people see the importance of salmon farming as part of long-term food security.

“BC Salmon Farmers are looking for ways to provide for the global demand for healthy protein in a sustainable way - and investigating closed containment is part of that industry development. We're off to a good start.

“Salmon farmers are already quite knowledgeable about closed containment systems because our fish are grown for a third of their life in recirculation systems on land. Some in the public want to see the entire lifespan of the fish spent in such systems - suggesting that isolating farmed salmon from wild stocks would minimize potential impacts on the environment.

“It's a suggestion that seems simple in premise, but is more complicated in application. In 2008, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did a review of 40 closed containment projects from around the world. None produced exclusively Atlantic salmon and none succeeded. The projects' failures were due to a variety of factors, such as mechanical breakdown, poor fish performance, management failure and inadequate financing.

Technology does advance though, and there is news of some small-scale closed containment projects producing other varieties of fish with success. That's good news, but it's still only been applied to what is really a specialty product - not at the commercial scale. To move the existing net-pen industry on land would take the equivalent space of 7,500 football fields. Capital costs would be prohibitive.

“Then there are the other questions that go with the closed containment debate. Our environmental managers suggest that the footprint of on-land projects would be unsustainable. The facilities would either have to run on generators around the clock, burning massive amounts of fuel, or they'd have to move close to urban centres to connect to sufficient power.

“Veterinarians and farm managers raise concern about animal welfare. Fish would have to live in much more confined spaces in closed containment, and because of the constant circulation required to keep the water clean, they would never be able to rest as they do in the ocean environment. These factors don't align with increasing consumer interest in the humane treatment of livestock.

“Nonetheless, our companies agree closed containment needs to be investigated - and are committed to learning more. For example, Marine Harvest Canada is in the process of hiring a manager to lead a closed containment pilot project announced in January this year. That project will benefit from their ongoing dialogue with the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR).

“BC's salmon farmers have proven themselves to be quick adapters to new technology - as has been seen with benthic monitoring and underwater feed cameras. If there's a way to do this business better, we'll find it and implement it,” BC Salmon Farmers conclude.

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