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By Staff Writer

 

British Columbia’s salmon farmers are among the top performers in the world when it comes to operating efficiently, growing healthier fish in the marine environment and safeguarding wild salmon populations. From feed to fighting sea lice and controlling harmful algae blooms caused by warming seas, they are constantly innovating in a relentless pursuit of environmental excellence. Over the past several years, the suppliers of feed for B.C. farm-raised salmon have taken great strides to reduce the amount of fishmeal and fish oils in their aquafeeds, while still maintaining nutritional value and traceability of their marine ingredients.

On average, current salmon feeds contain less than 15% fishmeal and fish oil. Since 2013, the dependency on wild pelagic fish for fishmeal has dropped by 25% and for fish oil by 32%. British Columbia’s salmon farmers are also leading the way when it comes to reduction in the use of antibiotics with less than 5 percent of their farmed salmon requiring antibiotics during their lifetime. Between 1996 and 2017, use of antibiotics at B.C. salmon farms declined from 516 grams per tonne of salmon to just 59 grams, a 775 per cent reduction.

The latest innovative technology to be introduced in B.C. is a new Semi-Closed Containment System (SCCS), that has been trialed by Cermaq in Norway with promising results. Cermaq Canada says the new system will essentially eliminate lateral contact between wild and farmed salmon, – the central issue in the polarising debate over ocean-based fish farming in British Columbia. It will be operational this month after being stocked with smolts at the Millar Channel farm site in Clayoquot Sound, said David Kiemele, Managing Director for Cermaq Canada. “The SCCS allows for greater precision in farming by providing increased oversight of the environment inside the pen and by controlling water temperature, dissolved oxygen and preventing sea lice and algae from entering the system,” he said.

Naturally occurring algae, some species of which can be harmful to fish, and sea lice are usually found in the top layers of the water column.

“The new system will set the sea water intake depths at between 22 to 27 metres, which will limit the introduction of these two organisms into the farm system,” said Kiemele, adding the robust pens are also equipped with barriers that can easily withstand storm activity and predator attacks. A control system using the same cohort of smolts will be adjacent to the new SCCS to monitor growth, performance and sea lice counts under local conditions. Upon completion of this project, Cermaq will develop a roadmap for potential SCCS implementation in other farm sites in Canada, said Kiemele.

Cermaq’s trialing of the new system in BC comes in the wake of a government report last February that concluded new aquaculture technologies, as well as conventional net-pen systems, will all play a role in contributing to global production of salmon The report said that land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

Other challenges to land based RAS grow-out facilities include the global shortage of a trained workforce, fish health, broodstock development, stocking densities, and financial risks. “Our fish go into the ocean free from lice and disease, but do come into contact with the naturally occurring parasites once they enter the sea environment,” said John Paul Fraser, the executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “Using a full tool belt of methods, BC’s salmon farmers have made it a priority to monitor, and treat our farmed populations for sea lice in order to help reduce the likelihood of the sea lice spreading back to the wild populations,” he said. “Through ongoing research and development and investment in new equipment and technologies to take on issues including sea lice, BC salmon farming has emerged as one of Canada’s most sustainable food production sectors.”

Sea lice are naturally occurring parasites found on many species of marine fish. They pose no risk to humans, but may harm tiny juvenile salmon. Salmon farmers have several ways to reduce or eliminate sea lice on their fish so they are not an additional source of infection during the springtime outmigration of juvenile wild salmon. In 2018, Mowi Canada West introduced its Aqua Tromoy well-boat, costing about $35 million, which is being used to provide environmentally friendly fish health treatments, and for moving fish from site to site. Mowi Canada West is also looking to see if its ocean-based closed containment and semi-closed farm design, called the “Egg” could be deployed in British Columbia.

Earlier this year, Grieg Seafood B.C., took delivery of the Ronja Islander – a $40-million specially designed vessel – to combat sea lice and act as a ‘fish taxi’ to provide safe handling during live transfers to ocean farms. The vessel is capable of disinfecting all on-board water following fish transport to reduce the potential transfer of pathogens to wild fish. Moreover, the vessel is equipped with technology that collects sea lice for on-land disposal after removal during fresh water and hydrogen peroxide treatments.

Cermaq which uses a Hydrolicer, called the Salar, is planning a new mechanical sea lice removal technology from Sea Farm Innovations (SFI), based in the Faroe Islands, for use at all saltwater farm sites beginning next year. The SFI System, which has a similar cost to the Salar at roughly $14 million for both the unit and the vessel onto which it will be mounted, is scheduled to arrive in Canada in early 2021.

While the industry’s high standard of environmental responsibility has been recognized by multiple independent, global environmental certification systems, BC salmon farmers regard their current achievements as simply providing a ‘snapshot’ of their ongoing transition toward technologies and innovations that will reduce their impact on the environment even further. These new technologies and innovations that are being implemented at both the hatchery and the grow-out phases of the farmed salmon production cycle, include;

Innovative Land-Based Hatcheries: Traditionally, newly hatched farmed salmon have been reared in land-based hatcheries until they reached a weight of 100 – 150g—and were then transferred to ocean net pens for the grow-out phase. However, recent research has shown that when juvenile salmon are grown to larger sizes (250g – 1kg) in hatcheries, their growth and survival rates in ocean net pens surpass those of smaller juveniles. BC salmon farmers are therefore developing new land-based RAS systems that will allow them to raise juvenile farmed salmon to larger, more robust sizes before transferring them to ocean-based grow-out systems.

Hybrid Systems Reduce Grow Out Time In Ocean: Rearing juveniles on land to larger sizes before transfer to the ocean could eventually reduce the time that farmed salmon spend in the marine environment from the current 2 years down to at most a single year. By using this ‘hybrid’ production strategy, BC salmon farmers will be able to reap the clear benefits of ocean-based grow-out—yet significantly lower the length of time that the salmon spend in the ocean, thus effectively reducing production and environmental challenges related to sea lice infestation and potential interactions with wild salmon stocks.

Cermaq’s new semi-closed containment system (SCCS) will set water intakes at between depths of between 22 to 27 metres to prevent sea lice from entering the ocean pens and eliminate lateral contact between wild and farmed salmon

Grieg Seafood B.C. uses the $40 million Ronja Islander to combat sea lice and act as a ‘fish taxi’.

David Kiemele, Managing Director for Cermaq Canada

Mowi’s Aqua Tromoy well-boat, costing about $35 million, provides environmentally friendly fish health treatments

Cermaq’s $14 million hydrolicer, Salar

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