Opinion: Super chilled salmon no surprise

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ICE-DAMAGED salmON CAGES AT COOKE AQUACULTURE SITE IN PORT WADE, NS JAN 4, 2015

None of this is even remotely rocket science

When you put fish in an ocean pen , you really roll the dice with them ….

Quelle surprise!

Fish farms on the south shore of Nova Scotia are reporting super chill conditions. Massive salmon and trout mortality is the result inevitably. Now there’s a surprise and a shocker.

I thought that while the rest of us have been suffering mightily from these frigid conditions, those ‘ farm raised ’ fish desperately compacted in the pens were somewhat safe in a manner of speaking.

Sadly mistaken
I guess I was sadly mistaken. After the weather of the last 39 days, we are seeing ice and freeze up in coastal communities that have not seen it for years. The water temperature in our lobster facility is the lowest it has been in over a decade. Perhaps even the feedlot crowd will finally have to face up to a rather sobering reality…

…. The world is changing before our very eyes , business models must change with it …..

And one more little tidbit…

… Mother Nature and Climate Change – they are a heck of a powerful combination when they set their minds to it …

Calamities predictable
Sad to say, none of this was necessary. The current calamities in coastal feedlots were perfectly predictable. The open net pen operational model is desperate and primitive: put as many fish as tightly compacted in an ocean pen as you possibly can, feed the daylights out of them for 16 months or more, and hope it all turns out happily in the end.

More often than not, from this moment forward, it will turn out badly for the captive fish, and not particularly well for their owners either …..

Threats blatantly apparent
Beyond the pollution of coastal waters and the damage to the environment, the threats to wild fisheries, and the unknown impacts of pesticide use, it is blatantly apparent that the model known as open net pen does not work well in the coastal waters of Atlantic Canada for reasons that just plain obvious. The primary risks are four fold :

1) 8-10 storms per year now which are nothing short of spectacular in a bad way, and threaten pens and all other coastal installments. “ Half a hurricane ” is the way a friend describes them;

2) unpredictable water temperatures – ranging from a low of -5C to as high of + 25C, substantial stressors on the live fish inventory much of the time;

3) ammonia build up in the cages (excrement primarily) which impacts live fish and other species in a range of negative ways, and

4) lack of oxygen in the pens, either from massive freeze up conditions in the winter, or warm , warm water in late August and September. All live species need ample oxygen, remember…

One simple reality
The risks taken together result in one simple reality: you cannot control a coastal environment in a fashion that is beneficial to salmon and trout when those fish are simply placed in a pen in the water. Someone or something may be in charge of the situation, but it surely is NOT the salmon farmers despite what they might like to claim publicly.

Massive and impressive lobster infrastructure
I always figured we in the lobster sector were slow learners. But as an industry we moved our inventory on land nearly forty years ago. We have an infrastructure throughout Atlantic Canada today that is both massive and impressive: lobster storage facilities in which we can carefully control water temperature, ammonia content, oxygen levels, and salinity. We practice on land closed containment that the feedlot farmers won’t even consider generally…

We are far from perfect as a sector, but we have largely removed the risk which inevitably flows from keeping our inventory in the ocean without basic environmental protections. We understand that our inventory can only be as healthy as our storage situation allows it to be. We recognize we can carefully monitor and control an on land facility for the betterment of our live lobster and ultimately the benefit of our customers and shareholders.

Not rocket science
None of this – dare I say it – is even remotely rocket science. And none of this – dare I admit it – is extraordinarily expensive. It simply is, everyone would agree pretty much: just basic good business .

Could we finally arrange an on land water treatment tutorial for fish farmers so they can share in this long-established wisdom? They have, somewhat ironically given their normal inclination, more to gain from change than anyone…

Stewart Lamont
Managing Director
Tangier Lobster Company
Tangier, Nova Scotia

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