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By Jeanine Stewart, IntraFish, January 12, 2012

Tides Canada is the most significant funding and technology force behind a CAD7 million ($6.9 / €5.4 million) pilot project for a closed containment Atlantic salmon farm in British Columbia, and the project is turning heads in the Canadian farmed salmon industry.

“We’re following this quite closely and wish them every success, and we’ll see what their results are,” said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCFSA).

“We need to be producing great food for people as our populations grows, so I think we’re all kind of looking at a range of options to be able to provide good food in an environmentally sensitive way.”

BCFSA membership includes major farmed salmon players Marine Harvest, Mainstream Canada, Creative Salmon and Grieg Seafood.

The association is interested in information on what the power requirements will be, whether the facility will allow adequate room for the fish and what the total calculation of infrastructure costs will be, said Walling, who plans to tour the facility this spring.

For now, the project’s list of supporters is long and varied.

Tides Canada has secured funding for the project from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and has shared significant intellectual capital with Namgis.

Other major stakeholders include the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which awarded a CAD800,000 ($785,075 / €616,132) grant this week; Sustainable Development and Technology Canada and the Coast Sustainability Trust; Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; the Province of British Columbia through the Investment Agriculture Foundation; the Save Our Salmon Marine Conservation Foundation; the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Enterprising Non-Profits.

Save Our Salmon is also a major collaborator on the project’s planning progress, but the project is owned entirely by Namgis First Nation, the same group of native people that took a class action law suit to the Canadian government in 2005 for allegedly violating constitutionally-protected treaties by allowing fish farms to operate in the Broughton Archipelago despite a

major wild pink salmon population crash.

"We’re a solutions based environmental organization, and in order to prove the environmental and economic benefits of closed containment, we reached out to the Namgis," Save Our Salmon spokesperson Jackie Hildering told IntraFish.

The site is currently under preparation 3.1 miles south of Port McNeill, on Namgis’ traditional territory. The 500 square meter rearing tank, at 48 feet in diameter, will contain 80 percent of the water and discharge the other 20 percent discharged into an infiltration basin. The ultimate intent is to use the effluent to grow plants (aquaponics), Hildering said.

"Studies we have had done suggest that it will take over 160 days for the effluent to be transported through the sediment," she said.

As Namgis First Nations Chief Bill Cranmer told IntraFish, “This is a pilot project to prove that Atlantic salmon can be grown on land and get the salmon farms out of the ocean because they are killing wild salmon and God only knows what else.”

The B.C. salmon farming industry has operated entirely in open net pens since the association started in 1984, Walling said.

First and foremost, Cranmer said the advantage of the project is that it gets farmed salmon out of the water, ending its impact on wild salmon.

“We go out to look at these little fish, and they have sea lice on them, and it doesn’t take very much sea lice to kill these little smolts,” Cranmer said. “As soon as they get close to the salmon farms, the sea lice starts attacking them.”

There are other advantages, he said.

“The fish are anticipated to be market-ready in only 12 to 15 months since closed containment allows for an optimal fish-rearing environment, improving feed conversion rates and optimizing growth. Since there is no interaction with the marine environment, fish are also raised without the need for therapeutants like antibiotics and pesticides,” Cranmer said.

The project plan is to harvest 260 to 290 tons the first year and, after the pilot project, to create a commercial scale production of 1,000 tons per year.

To Namgis First Nation, the question is not whether but when the project can prove to be economically viable and environmentally sustainable. On its website, the group states: “…This will catalyze the start of a new industry on the B.C. coast – one that is particularly well-suited for First Nations to embrace and that will remove the environmental impacts, biosecurity threats, and other negative impacts associated with open net-pen fish farming, including:

· The discharge of ‘therapeutants’ like antibiotics and pesticides into the marine environment

· The amplification and spread of sea lice to the wild salmon populations

· The spread of disease among the salmon population within an open net-pen facility; from one open net-pen facility to another; and from farmed salmon in open net-pens to the wild salmon populations

· The risk of detrimental impacts to the marine organisms and the marine environment due to the discharge of waste into the marine environment

· The risk of economic loss and the potential environmental damage due to the escape of non-indigenous species."

The project’s officially stated goal is to “demonstrate the commercial viability of producing Atlantic salmon in a land-based, closed containment recirculating aquaculture (RAS) system.”