by Dan MacLennan, Courier-Islander
Published: Thursday, December 03, 2009
Saying Marine Harvest suffers from bad press, company officials attempted to set the record straight in a presentation to city council Tuesday.
“I think it can be said in general that salmon farming gets a lot of press attention in BC and also in Campbell River, and unfortunately for us the attention is not always very positive,” managing director Vincent Erenst told councillors. “Most of the news stories originate from our opponents or our critics and they are usually not positive.
“At Marine Harvest we believe that the public does not really get a fair view of what our industry actually is and the things that we are doing.” Erenst outlined that Marine Harvest, the largest Atlantic salmon farmer in the world, employs 550 people directly on the BC coast, roughly 200 of whom call Campbell River home.
Marine Harvest Canada managing director Vincent Erenst, right, and communications manager Ian Roberts spoke to Campbell River city council Tuesday night.
Globally, Marine Harvest will produce 322,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon this year, Erenst said, roughly a quarter of global production, through operations in Norway, Canada, Scotland, Chile, Ireland and the Faroe Islands. He said the company produces 38,000 tonnes of fish annually in BC, enough to fill 1,900 trucks, for roughly $220 million in annual sales. Operations include six freshwater facilities from Duncan to Port Hardy producing brood stock and smolts, and processing plants in Port Hardy and Klemtu.
The company has 71 fish farming licences on the coast but only 41 salmon farms sites have been used in the last couple of years and no more than 30 are in production at any one time, while the other 10 sites are fallowed from two to six months. Marine Harvest Canada has a monthly payroll of $3 million and spends $10 million a month on goods and services, Erenst said, while the company has been investing $10 to $15 million per year on the Island.
“The last four years, from 2006 until now, have been profitable years for this company,” Erenst said. “They’ve been very good years in fact. They have allowed us to invest in our business, not so much in growth but in making our operations much more solid, more efficient, more robust and more environmentally sustainable.”
Major investments in the works include a new waste water treatment plant worth more than $3 million for their Port Hardy processing plant. More will go into Sayward. “Next year we will make a big investment in Sayward,” Erenst said. “We have a hatchery there which we will rebuild and make much more efficient in order to use less water and produce bigger and stronger smolts. That will be a five or six million dollar investment.”
There are social benefits as well. “We support the community in many ways,” he said. “I believe around 40 per cent of our $240,000 community support budget is actually spent in Campbell River.” As for the more contentious issues, Erenst acknowledged no lack of debate over the impacts of fish farms and sea lice on wild salmon stocks.
“Whatever the truth may be, I believe we can say that during the last five years we’ve worked very hard to minimize the amount of sea lice on our fish through a combination of good farming practices and treatment with a de-licing agent called Slice just before the out-migration season,” he said. He said DFO data shows the amount of sea lice per wild fish in the Broughton Archipelago has decreased from 2005 to 2008 and 2009.
“It basically means that by 2008, only one sea lice was found on every 13th pink salmon fry. That number in 2008 and 2009 was lower than the amount found in the Skeena/Nass estuary where there are no salmon farms at all. I believe we can say there’s been a very clear decrease of sea lice on wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago.
If that really comes from our improved sea lice management or if there are other biological factors at work, we don’t know, but what is sure is that as of now, we’ve reached levels of lice on wild salmon in the Broughton that are lower or equal to natural background levels. So if there is an impact, in the case of the Broughton, this impact must be very small.”
He pointed to strong pink salmon returns in the Broughton area and elsewhere around the Island, saying they “prove that sea lice have not yet destroyed these stocks.” Erenst said Marine Harvest must work to continually increase the sustainability of fish farming. “For us this clearly means minimizing or eliminating completely the interaction of farmed salmon with wild salmon, minimizing the effect we have the sea bottom and the quality of the sea water, and minimizing the amount of marine ingredients in our feed.
I honestly believe that we’ve demonstrated over the last five years we have made lots of progress in this direction and it’s definitely our intention to continue to do so.” As for closed containment, Erenst said Marine Harvest has a small-scale pilot project waiting for funding assistance from the federal and provincial governments.
“So far we’ve not been able to convince either the feds or the province to support us in this,” he said. (See more in next Wednesday’s C-I).
photo credit – Dan MacLennan