Aquaculture North America

Diversification key to climate resiliency

December 11, 2019
By Mari-Len De Guzman

(Photo: Northern Harvest Sea Farms, Facebook)

The inconvenient truth about climate change is that not only are temperature changes affecting our natural ecosystems, it’s also causing us to rethink the way we do things, both as consumers and as an industry.

Whether it’s in our personal consumption or in the industrial realm, climate change is forcing us to face the reality that we simply cannot go on the way we used to and expect the climate crisis to resolve on its own. Sustainable production, supply and consumption of goods and services need to be more deliberate to have a more meaningful impact.

The recent deaths of some 2.6 million farmed salmon in Newfoundland in Canada brings the devastating effects of climate change closer to home.

Northern Harvest Sea Farms, a subsidiary of Mowi Canada, suffered a significant setback last fall after roughly 5,000 tons of fish died in the net pens, resulting in the temporary suspension of the company’s farming licences. Company representatives blamed the massive mortalities to an extended period of higher-than-usual sea water temperatures that lasted up to 13 days.

If recent climate-related catastrophes are any indication, the Northern Harvest fish mortalities are likely not going to be an isolated incident moving forward. Just as more frequent California wildfires and increasingly stronger hurricane seasons have become the norm every year, rising ocean temperatures will continue to wreak havoc to the species that live in it and, as a consequence, to businesses that rely on the ocean as a resource. Nothing moves a corporation more than a hit on its bottom line.

Hearing about a natural phenomenon causing millions of fish to die in net pens made me think about land-based, closed containment aquaculture. Raising fish on land, in a controlled, bio-secure environment is really giving the fish a better fighting chance against the devastating effects of global warming. The business case for RAS gets stronger when the alternative is leaving the lives of millions of species – and the future of the industry – at the mercy of the unpredictability of this climate crisis.

I am not suggesting that the industry move away from net pen farming in favour of land-based production. But there is clearly a case to be made for diversifying the commercial production landscape that will lead to a more resilient, climate-proof industry. I agree with many in the salmon farming community that the choice does not have to be either/or, when it comes to net pen versus RAS, because the two can exist and flourish without wiping out the other.

The aquaculture industry, with its potential to help feed the projected additional 2.3 billion of the world’s population by 2050, surely has an infinite room for diversity: net pen, land-based, as well as offshore, open ocean farming. After all, sustainability is not exclusive, but inclusive.

Sustainable production and consumption is top on the global agenda. But let’s also find ways to cushion the effects of global warming by making the industry as resilient as it can possibly be.



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