Experiencing a Marine Harvest Salmon Farm
Last week, our team had the pleasure of attending the Aquaculture Canada 2015 conference in British Columbia. During the conference we had the chance to learn about the aquaculture industry from a number of different professionals, site managers, researchers, scientists and students. As the days progressed we became more and more excited about an opportunity we had to visit a Marine Harvest Aquaculture site for Salmon in the waters around Campbell River.
The more I read up on the industry the more I ran into critics of fish farms and the practices “used”. As a result I was very excited to visit a site and see firsthand how salmon are farmed in my country.
After the conference had ended, we rented a car and drove through the beautiful scenery of British Columbia until we reached Campbell River. When we arrived, there were two water taxis waiting for our tour group which consisted of a number of industry professionals, government personnel and farmers.
We took off for the hour-long scenic boat ride to the farm site, on the way there we experienced whirlpool waters and a family of orcas swimming freely in the ocean.
The boat ride itself shaped up to be a great time with picturesque views and wildlife, but it also turned out to be highly educational as everyone on the boat chatted about their experiences and knowledge of the industry. As various farm sites were pointed out to us along the way we continued to discuss the uniqueness of different sites, along with the factors that vary from company to company and what remains consistent across all sites.
I learned that regular inspections and environmental monitoring is not unique to a select few Canadian sites. The Atlantic salmon farming industry in Canada is heavily regulated, with the environmental impacts very closely monitored across the board and the sustainability of ecosystems held in high regard at all sites. I learned the amount of species that is allowed to be farmed at one site at any particular time is completely dependent on the benthic impact of the surrounding area. The more we discussed the more I learned how important the environmental monitoring surrounding Canadian aquaculture really is.
After taking in all of the wonderful sites we pulled up to the farm where the other half of our group was waiting. Before being allowed to get off the boat everyone was asked to put on life jackets and clean our shoes in sanitizer. What I first noticed was that cleanliness and site integrity are taken very seriously. I for one find it very relieving to know that the safety and health of the facility where my food is produced is treated with high importance.
The tour started with the Marine Harvest site manager going over safety procedures and showing us the common living areas. With a full kitchen and living room area, the staff had everything they needed, plus an amazing view of the mountains.
From there we toured the ‘farm’ area of the site, where the pens with salmon are. Before attending this tour I always envisioned a fish farm to have overly crowded pens and reek of fish – but in reality what I saw was a number of salmon schooling together with plenty of extra space in the pens. The fish had the chance to swim around and jump as they pleased, completely eliminating my previous interpretation of what I thought an aquaculture site would look like. Marine harvest sites, including the one we visited, harvest their fish when there is approximately 15 kg per meter cubed in the pen, meaning that the pens never become too crowded as the fish grow.
A shot of the fish swimming in the pens
Marine Harvest produces only fresh product at the highest grade of Salmon, sushi grade. Their product is delivered to the surrounding regions, with most of their harvest going to the United States.
It takes three days from the time the salmon are harvested to being on a dinner plate at a restaurant in the USA. That is fresh salmon!
The site that we saw is considered one of the company’s smaller farms, although to me it seemed sufficiently large. There was a total of 8 pens with varying sizes of fish in each. Our guide explained that at this point, on this farm they no longer size grade because they do not want to stress out the fish. As such, it provides a variety of salmon sizes at the time of harvest.
After touring and taking in all that we could, we shared a nice lunch with delicious candied salmon for everyone to try. The farm we were visiting has a Deep Trekker DTG2 Worker ROV of their own – we were hoping to get it in the water so that everyone would have a chance to see below the surface. Unfortunately the employees had just completed their inspections for the day right before we arrived, so we didn’t have a chance to do any inspections while we were there. That being said it was so nice to hear that the site manager has found our product to be a huge asset on the site, and has greatly reduced his need for hired divers.
After lunch we packed up and got back on our taxis to head back to the mainland. Sun-kissed and full of new knowledge we had a beautiful ride after successful day. I cannot wait to visit another site again and am very happy that I had the chance to see how aquaculture takes place within Canada. From what I saw it seemed very well regulated and the staff were genuinely passionate and loved what they do. They cared deeply for the fish welfare and integrity of the site. I encourage anyone who has the chance, to visit an aquaculture site before deciding whether or not to support farmed fish. What I have learned is that our oceans do not have enough wild fish to feed the world so alternatives like salmon farming are necessary when providing food for the global population. As such, farmers and site managers in Canada have been working very hard to minimize any impacts on the surrounding ecosystems and wild fish populations.
Here at Deep Trekker we always encourage everyone to explore, ask questions and learn as much as they can before coming to a conclusion about any particular aspect of the oceans. In most cases people are surprised by what they find!