Last week a new salmon farm proposed for Clayquot Sound on Vancouver Island was forced to shut down its operations after a two-week occupation by members of the Ahousat First Nation opposed to the location of the farm in their traditional territory near Flores Island, home to old-growth cedar forests and countless spawning streams teeming with wild salmon.
“This is the very first salmon farm that’s pulled out of B.C. because of protesters,” said Alexandra Morton, an independent salmon researcher who has studied the farmed salmon industry’s impacts on wild B.C. salmon and other marine life and participated in the occupation.
“We want to get rid of all the fish farms on our territory”, Ahousaht member John Rampanen told Desmog Canada, pointing to serious declines in shellfish, salmon, and herring since salmon farming began in Ahousaht traditional territory in 1999. “We know salmon farming in the ocean is wrong,” said Joe James Rampanen, another Ahousaht member. “We have to do something”.
But while the Ahousaht are shutting down net-pen fish farms in their traditional territories using people power, across Vancouver Island, another First Nation is taking a much different approach. Just outside of Port McNeill, the ‘Namgis First Nation operates Kuterra; a cutting-edge, $7.6 million salmon farming operation that uses a closed-containment re-circulating aquaculture system (RAS) to rear Atlantic salmon in tanks on land instead of in ocean pens.
“The conditions of traditional salmon farms can only be compared to a floating pig farm,” says UBC marine biologist Daniel Pauly, with a typical operation generating as much waste as a town of 7,500 people. In ocean-based salmon farming operations, all this waste accumulates on the ocean floor beneath the net-pens, smothering all life and creating benthic dead-zones. But with Kuterra’s closed-containment system, the waste can be captured, processed and turned into garden soil.
The RAS system filters and re-circulates almost 99% of the water used in the operation, roughly 800,000 gallons of water every hour. This carefully controlled environment allows Kuterra’s salmon farmers to raise fish in optimum conditions, growing from 100-gram smolts to a market-ready 3 to 5 kilograms in just 12 months using 30% less feed than a typical net-pen operation and largely eliminating the need for antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemical treatments; all the while keeping farmed fish and associated diseases out of critical wild salmon habitat.
“Individual ‘Namgis members and the Nation as a whole have long been concerned about the effects of open net-pen aquaculture on the marine environment and the life in and around it, especially wild salmon,” ‘Namgis Chief Debra Hanuse told the Vancouver Observer. “Our primary motive for pursuing land-based closed containment aquaculture and founding Kuterra is environmental. We feel the most effective way to act on those concerns is to propose an alternative that we see as being more sustainable.”
Kuterra salmon is currently available through Safeway and Sobeys stores across Western Canada.
Photo credit: National Geographic.