Globe & Mail:

From Marike Finlay-de Monch, Port Dufferin, Nova Scotia

“Can the salmon farming industry survive without massive government subsidies,” writes Marike Finlay-de Monch in Port Dufferin, Nova Scotia, “and does a forensic economic analysis show that taxpayers are paying through the nose to pollute their own waters?”

National correspondent Mark Hume explains:

Nailing down precisely the financial support federal and provincial governments provide to the salmon farming industry would indeed require a forensic audit. Lacking the resources to do such a study, we can turn to a variety of sources to address the question of how much Canadian taxpayers are pouring in to aquaculture in general.

It’s a lot.

Last year Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, announced Ottawa is providing $54 million over five years to “help address the sector’s challenges to growth by reducing red tape, improving regulatory management and transparency; as well as increasing scientific knowledge and supporting science-based decision making.”

But that’s just one of many government programs that are designed to either directly, or indirectly help the aquaculture industry.

In their book, The Aquaculture Controversy in Canada, Nathan Young and Ralph Mathews list over 20 federal and provincial subsidies or transfers which make over $100 million available to the industry annually.

Included on the list of subsidies are programs such as Western Economic Diversification, which promotes technology development for aquaculture, Farm Credit Canada, which makes loans to individual firms, and Indian and Northern Affairs, which makes grants to First Nation aquaculture businesses.

The list does not include payments made by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to compensate aquaculture operations when fish are lost to disease. That, as Victoria-based writer D.C. Reid reported in a recent blog, can run into the millions. Mr. Reid reported that in 2012 one B.C. farm alone was paid $2.64 million after more than 900,000 fish died and that nationally the total payout for fish lost to disease was about $50 million in 2012-2013.

You ask if the salmon farming industry could survive without massive government subsidies. That’s not clear, but both the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCFSA) and The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance argue that they are running viable businesses which rely on government support less than other industry sectors do.

The BCSFA notes that of $250 million in grants and contributions Fisheries and Oceans Canada made to fisheries nationally, only about $555,000 went to projects related to B.C. salmon farms.

“To be clear, BC’s salmon farmers receive no money to assist with their basic operations. All of the funding relating to the BCSFA . . . went toward the development of new technology, improved environmental reporting systems and certification standards,” the BCSFA said in a 2013 statement.

A report by RIAS Inc., done in Feb. 2013 for The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, cautions that any examination of government subsidies to industry needs to provide context by comparisons with other industry sectors.

The report goes on to state: “Based on Statistics Canada data, in 2009 the aquaculture industry received less government support per dollar output (0.17%) than the average Canadian industry (0.67%).”

The report also notes 46 government programs provide about $2.8 billion per year in subsidies to the oil and gas industry in Canada’s three major oil producing provinces. And about $6.9 billion in “producer support” is made available to Canada’s agriculture industry.

So while Canada’s aquaculture industry is subsidized heavily, it is not alone.

The government’s goal in providing those subsidies is to make the industry grow and become more competitive globally. Not all Canadians think that would be a good thing, however, and that may be what you are driving at by asking such a provocative question.