Salmon Farming, an interview and a visit!

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Salmon farming in the ocean is big business and a fascinating one at that.  During the BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival, you can even tour a salmon farm, and while on a hosted trip to this amazing festival, that’s just what I did!

Salmon Farming according to the Salmon Farmer’s Association(BCSFA) is B.C.’s highest valued seafood product, as well as the top agricultural export. The Association reports that salmon farming generates over 1.1 billion for the B.C economy resulting in over 5,000 jobs in rural areas where employment is not always easy to find.

Members of BCSFA harvested 78,000 metric ton of salmon in 2016 which makes up 3% of the global production. Honoring the history of the First Nation people, 78% of the salmon raised is done so in partnership with them.

Jeremy Dunn, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association shared some interesting facts about salmon farming.  The farm begins with brood stock which come from wild Atlantic salmon.  “We continually select animals that perform best in their environment.”

The Atlantic Salmon adjust better, Jeremy said that the Pacific Salmon which he added, ” Are more wild and aggressive and don’t take to farming.”

Much of what they have learned in British Columbia is taken from Norway where salmon farming has become an art. “Europeans use more salmon than North America.”

The salmon lay their eggs, they are harvested, then they wait for the small fish to live on their own and grow to the smolt phase that they go from fresh to salt water.  They spend about 18 months in this tank based system.  “We then transfer the fish via tanker truck to a well boat.  They are transferred and stay there until they are harvest size.  It is about a 3-year production cycle,” Jeremy explained.

Before being transferred, the fish are vaccinated by hand at the hatchery. They are sedated, then vaccinated for endemic pathogens.  I had no idea this was so technical.

The salmon farms consist of floating sea cages or net pens and is often referred to as “ocean ranching”. “We sea-farm on the surface in a size of about two-football fields.  The nets are 90 feet deep and the ratio is 1% fish to 98 or 99% water,” Jeremy added.

The nets are comprised of polyethylene but during the early years of sea-farming before the nets were almost indestructible, Jeremy said lots of fish escaped.  With the improve nets, only three got away last year.  There is netting all around the salmon because there are strong predators outside of the net.  “Seals and sea lions are very resourceful and abundant.  Farmers go to great lengths to keep them out.  A sea lion can take out two-three-hundred fish .  Sea otters are also very resourceful!” Jeremy said adding that they want to do this in a way that doesn’t harm the predator, these days they just try to chase them away.

“My job is to share information with the public and interface,” Jeremy said as we rode on a bus to board a boat that took us out to the salmon farm.

This is the salmon farm. There are walkways between the pens.

At the farm we were able to tour and see the salmon in their pens. They eat around 12-14 tons of food a day and because they have developed a digestible pellet that is actually flung to them from a rotating spray they receive just the right amount of food and reduce feed waste.  There is a camera unit that even records the feeding periods and workers can keep an eye on what is happening both above and below the water.

During feeding time, I was amazed to see the fish literally fly into the air trying to catch one of the prized pellets!  One of the biggest challenges Jeremy said is the algal blooms that can be harmful to salmon gills.

Being in a pen in the sea though is a great way to raise these fish.  In fact, Jeremy even said that the rough waters help keep the fish healthy.  Each year he added, the demand raises for seafood and “It shouldn’t be a luxury item,” he added.

On the salmon farm we also had a chance to see the office and living quarters for the employees who work on again and off again for a week.  The area was nice and if you didn’t look out, you would have no idea you were in the middle of an inlet sea!  Mountains in the distance, ocean around you, it is a glorious view.

If you choose to attend the wonderful BC Shellfish & Seafood Festival, keep a tour of the salmon farm on your radar.  It is educational as well as a wonderful way to get out on the water and see some lovely scenery!