British Columbia exports more than $350 million worth of the fish per year, mostly to the United States
By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun January 28, 2011
Fish farming has grown into an important industry for B.C.’s coastal communities and 2011 will see continued strong productivity, according to Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association.
Farmed salmon represents more than half of the total fresh seafood sales in California, a market in which British Columbia is slowly establishing dominance, said Walling. B.C. exports more than $350 million worth of farmed salmon, mainly to the United States.
“Our volumes haven’t increased, but our export value will be higher,” said Walling. “We are establishing B.C. farmed salmon as a premium product and our main competitor Chile is exporting less fish to the United States. So not only are we getting more money for our fish, we are expanding our share of the market.”
The industry has coalesced into four major companies and a collection of niche players.
About 98 per cent of B.C.’s farmed fin fish are Atlantic salmon, dominated by Marine Harvest, Mainstream and Grieg Foods.
A fourth firm, Creative Salmon, also farms chinook salmon for export to Japan.
Nearly all of the fin fish farmed in B.C. are grown in the ocean in net pens, a technology that has its share of critics. Scientists studying the collapse of wild salmon fisheries in B.C. waters have pointed the finger at salmon farms as a source of dangerous parasites and pathogens, but more recent studies are skeptical of the connection between salmon farms and failing wild fisheries.
The inquiry of Justice Bruce Cohen into the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye fishery should finally bring some clarity to the debate when he reports later this year. The aquaculture industry has been working for six years with the World Wildlife Fund to establish an environmental certification program for farmed fish.
“We are hoping to see that come about this year,” said Walling, Canada’s representative on the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue, the body developing the standards.
B.C.’s salmon farmers are conducting a print, TV and online ad campaign drawing viewers to its bcsalmonfacts.ca website.
The coming year will see at least one new B.C. product come on the market: white sturgeon caviar. Sechelt’s Target Marine will begin to harvest and export caviar early this year. It is the only white sturgeon caviar farm in Canada.
About 2,000 fish are nearing maturity after 11 years of rearing in Target’s land-based aquaculture operation. Each fish can produce four to 10 kilograms of black caviar worth up to $3,000 a kilo at retail.
The newest generation of sturgeon hatchings at Target number about 40,000, but how many of those are roe-bearing females won’t be known for several years.