Aquaculture North America

British Columbia salmon farmers slam ratings downgrade

December 8, 2021
By Liza Mayer

California-based Seafood Watch has downgraded the rating of Atlantic salmon farmed in British Columbia from “good alternative” to “avoid” because of poor performance in terms of chemical use and disease, but salmon farmers have slammed the new rating as an utter disregard for science-backed findings and shows the pressure from activists is working.

“Seafood Watch has stated that the downgrade of BC farmed Atlantic salmon is due to concerns around antibiotic use, sea lice, and disease outbreaks. However, the weight of science does not support this concern and ignored submissions from several respected Canadian scientists. In fact, nine government-directed, peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat concluded that salmon farms do not pose more than a minimal risk to wild salmon. Unfortunately, the Seafood Watch process has disregarded these and other findings by credible scientists. Frankly, their approach damages their program credibility when compared to the recent Collier-FAIRR report,” said the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

The Seafood Watch program, run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, acknowledged that half of active salmon farms in the province are not treated with antimicrobials each year, but the other half that do are treated three times per year on average, it said, while for sea lice treatment, the use of chemical pesticides is currently less than once per year per site. 

BCSFA said “BC salmon farming is a highly regulated industry. All fish are vaccinated against important diseases before they enter the marine environment. Antibiotics are only administered in cases where fish are ill, just like humans, and their use is under the supervision of registered veterinarians. Antibiotic use has significantly declined over the years, and salmon farmers strive to eliminate antibiotic use with continuous vaccine research and development. Sea lice are a natural parasite of wild salmon that infect farmed salmon. Levels on BC salmon farms are regulated with 90 percent of monthly averages below the regulated threshold.”


While Seafood Watch acknowledged it is difficult, in fact, “largely impossible” to clearly tell apart between the “speculation” that viruses from Atlantic salmon farms are contributing to the declines of wild salmon and the recent scientific findings that pathogens are of “minimal concern” to wild salmon in BC, it took the position that it is better to err on the side of caution. 

“It is clear that pathogens or parasites from salmon farms have not caused the widespread decline, but given the importance of wild salmon (considered essential to life by Indigenous communities in BC), any substantial contributions to their declines or inhibitions of their recovery must be considered,” it said. 

The BC farmers group lamented the decision to downgrade farmed salmon from BC defames “the hard-working and dedicated people in the sector who grow sustainable food in the ocean and care deeply about the marine environment and wild salmon.” It  is also an example of activist pressure trumping science-based decision-making, it added.

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