Coast Aquaculture:Is Aquaculture on the West Coast of Canada a Good Solution to the Depletion of Natural Fish Stocks?

aquaculture intro pic.jpg
( This is a photo of a fish farm. Notice the small, concentrated enclosures.

When people think about aqua-life, they don’t usually place much importance on the topic. Often, people don’t recognhize the huge connection that aqua-life has to our economy and our general environment. For an example of how much the well-being of our aquatic ecosystems can affect us, look no further than our own West Coast fisheries. Canada's fishing industry was booming in the 20th century, and was catching millions of fish per year from a seemingly endless supply of sea creatures. However, this was not to last. In 1994, one million fewer salmon than estimated arrived at a very important spawning grounds. This was considered the collapse of the West Coast fishery, because it showed us that we needed to be more careful when making informed decisions about how many fish can be caught each year. It happened because of 3 possible reasons: Over fishing, changes in the environment because of global warming, lack of a salmon fishing treaty with the USA, or maybe even a combination of all three (Clark and Wallace, 256-257, 1999). This recent collapse shows that we cannot take our fishing resources lightly. We must preserve as much as possible and only take what we need. Aquaculture is one way to try to preserve our natural fish stocks by creating our own. The idea is quite sound: We put nets in the ocean and breed many fish in them. In fact, this industry has become so large in Canada that by 2010, the industry was valued at nearly $1 billion (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2012) However, there are many unseen problems with this industry as well. On this wiki, I will explore these problems, the pros of aquaculture, many of the things to consider about aquaculture, and then my personal opinion about the issue.

 above video gives a tour of a salmon farm in BC. Keep in mind that this video was made by the farm. It is only one perspective of a salmon farm.

What is the Overall Issue and Why is it a Canadian Issue?
aquaculture production in canada.jpg
( This is a graph showing the production and value of Canada's aquaculture from 1990-2009. The line shows the value, while the bars show production.
The overall issue seems fairly simple. We don't want Canada's natural fish stocks to deplete so we make our own fish stocks in netted areas on the water. In theory, these fish stocks are clean, plentiful, and profitable. In theory, these fish stocks are perfect. However, they are not perfect, especially salmon farms. In reality, aquaculture spreads parasites and diseases among natural and man-made fish populations, it pollutes the water with high concentrations of feces and uneaten food, it threatens native species when exotic Atlantic salmon escape and colonize waterways, it still depletes natural fish stocks (though maybe not as much as without aquaculture) when we use food that is made out of smaller fish, and it even poses certain health risks for people to eat farmed fish (Young and Matthews, 2010). We must choose between depleting much of our natural fish stocks as fish demand increases with the world's population or posing many environmental risks if we do choose to continue aquaculture. This is clearly a Canadian issue because much of our economic, environmental, social, and political future rests on what we decide for the future of aquaculture on the West Coast.

There are many stakeholders in this issue. In this case, the stakeholders are people who will be affected by whatever choice is made by the government.
  • Government: The first obvious stakeholder is the Canadian government. In the end, the Canadian government will be making the decision, and it is up to them to please as many people as possible while still increasing the economy and preserving the environment. Their point of view is that aquaculture is great for the economy, and they want no one threatening that. In fact, in the last 10 years, there have been several attempts to expose aquaculture's environmental and human hazards. These have all been venomously refuted by the government and by huge aquaculture giants, clearly showing that our government draws a very shaky line in front of how much they are willing to do in order to improve our economy (Young and Matthews, 2010).
  • Aquaculture Giants: A very large group of stakeholders is large aquaculture businesses. They, much like the government, are making enormous amounts of money from their various fish farms, and they only want what is going to make them the most money, so they have been disputing challenges against aquaculture for many years.
  • Small Aquaculture Businesses: Another group of stakeholders is the smaller aquaculture businesses. They are less rich, but no less important than the aquaculture giants. These are businesses that are responsible for other fish farms than salmon farms, like most shellfish farms. The point of view of these businesses is much more friendly than the government or larger businesses, because they cannot afford to cover up or blatantly object to challenges against them. The only way for these smaller businesses to make money is for them to have a positive reputation, so they keep their aquaculture much more clean than the larger businesses do.
  • Citizens Who Consume Fish: The citizen of Canada who consume fish may be affected by fish from the fish farms that are less healthy than natural fish. They will also be affected if the populations of fish drop on the West Coast, so it is important to them (even if they are not aware of it) for the right decision to be made about aquaculture. There is not one definite point of view of the citizens of Canada. Some support aquaculture, some despise it, and some are indifferent, or don't know enough to make a decision.
  • Fishermen: Fishermen will be affected if aquaculture is stopped because there will be more need for us to fish more natural fish populations, and they may lose business to larger companies. If aquaculture continues, they have more of a share of that natural populations, but fish may become more unhealthy. Therefore, the fishermen, like the citizens who consume fish, have a balanced point of view.

Advantages and Disadvantages
actual finfish vs shellfish production.jpg
( This graph show how massive the fin fish business is compared to shellfish.

Advantages: The main advantages of aquaculture are its economic value and the environmental benefit of itsaving further use of natural fish stocks. To see why these are such huge advantages, you must understand how huge aquaculture is. It accounts for 14% of Canada's fisheries production, and 33% of Canada's fisheries value. It also directly provides over 8000 jobs for Canadians. In addition, salmon farms represent 75% of Canada's aquaculture value (Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, 2012). All this means that if we didn't have aquaculture, we would likely be fishing 14% more fish out of our natural fish stocks, and would likely be making less money from our fisheries.

British Columbia
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and
Nova Scotia
Prince Edward
Aquaculture Production
$426 million
$250 million
$60 million
$40 million
$32 million
$16 million
$13 million
Jobs Created
  • 3600 direct
4000 indirect
2000 direct
2500 indirect
460 direct and indirect
900 direct
2000 direct and indirect
230 direct
310 direct
A chart detailing the considerable economic benefits of aquaculture.

Disadvantages: Though there are major economic advantages, and some environmental advantages to aquaculture, there are a huge amount of disadvantages as well. For one,aquaculture risks.jpg aquaculture is very polluting. Food full of unnatural chemicals often goes uneaten and slips through the bottom of enclosures, along with feces from the fish themselves. The salmon's food is made out of tiny fish from natural stocks, and in order for 1 kg of the fish meal to be made, 4.5 kg of smaller fish must be fished out of the ocean. Also, because the fish in fish farms are so close together, parasites and diseases spread rapidly among them, and often escape into the natural ecosystem. An example of this is sea lice, which especially affect salmon. These tiny crustaceans breed rapidly in salmon farms, making the farm a hub for the little creatures, they then can escape and begin to feed on natural populations of salmon, creating a huge problem for fishermen and aquaculture owners alike. Also, viral, fungal, and bacterial diseases alike have spread from fish farms to natural populations (Britannica Advocacy for Animals, 2008). Also, fish like Atlantic salmon have been known to escape and invade the natural aquatic ecosystems of the West Coast. Not only are the fish populations' well being threatened, but human health is threatened as well. A study called "Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon," which analyzed more than 2 metric tons of wild and farmed salmon, concluded that farmed salmon contain considerably higher levels of certain contaminants that can cause serious health risks than wild salmon. According to the study, farmed salmon receive these contaminants from the food that is given to them, the same food that natural fish populations are wasted so much on (Hites, Foran, Carpenter, Hamilton, Knuth, and Schwager, 2004. These contaminants have been found to cause immunosuppression, endocrine disruption, reproductive and nervous system disorders, and cancer (Simmonds, Haraguchi, Endo, Cipriano, Palumbi, and Troisi, 2002. Some of these effects may seem complicated, but some are strikingly, horribly familiar, like cancer. Are we really willing to risk our country's environmental sustainability and even our own health for the sake of money for our government and large aquaculture business owners? If you said yes, then you need to reevaluate the situation. Not only does aquaculture pollute the ocean with feces and uneaten fish food, deplete natural populations of small fish to make the fish food, spread invasive species in BC's aquatic ecosystems, and spread parasites and diseases among the farmed fish populations and natural populations alike, but eating farmed salmon exposes your body to certain contaminants that increase your chances of serious diseases such as cancer.

The 4 Spheres of Issue Analysis
  • Economic: Without a doubt, aquaculture is wonderful for the economy. It has a massive value, worth 33% of our fisheries' total value, and 14% of its production. It also creates thousands of jobs directly. This all amounts to a huge economic boost, and the government loves this. However, if the diseases and parasites originating from fish farms were to become so serious that they had a very lasting effect on the wild fish populations, it would deal a serious blow to the larger half of the fishing industry, the natural fishing industry. This would likely result in a serious collapse, and all of the economic benefits of aquaculture would be erased in a heartbeat.
  • Environmental: As we have already explored, aquaculture is not good for the environment. Certainly, many fish from natural fish populations are preserved because of aquaculture,
    veta la palma.jpg
    (,9171,1902751,00.html?cnn=yes) A picture of the Veta la Palma fish farm and its owner, Miguel Medialdea.
    but this benefit is cushioned by the small fish used for fish meal, and there are many other consequences. These include the rapid spread of diseases and parasites among natural and farmed populations, the pollution of water with feces and uneaten fish food, and the invasion of species like Atlantic salmon into the West Coast's aquatic ecosystems, all of which have already been explained. However, aquaculture doesn't have to be so dangerous to the environment. In fact, it would be perfect if all fish farms took after a fish farm in southern Spain called "Veta la Palma," or "Palm Vein." This fish farm is a simulation of a near-perfect aquatic ecosystem that breed bass, red mullet, and shrimp all in the same enclosures, which are a series of 45 ponds filled by the Atlantic Ocean. Their simulated ecosystems include everything from plant life, which acts as a natural filter for the water, cleansing it of nitrogen and phosphates, to large enclosures that have low fish density (roughly 4 kg of fish/m3 occurrence water), which hugely decrease the occurrence of diseases and parasites, to birds, natural predators, that contribute to the balance of the ecosystem. Many of the birds are endangered species, so the farm acts almost like a reserve for them. Also the farm doesn't harvest the fish as soon as they are large enough for a plate (usually about 400 g), they wait until the fish is a whopping 1 kg, which takes 4 years. Not only are these fish bigger than when they are harvested so quickly, but apparently they taste better, too. Also, they use 100% natural food, because their sea bass and red mullets live on the shrimp that are bred there, completing a totally natural ecosystem. Now, you may think that there's no way that this is economically sustainable, but this fish farm has an annual yield of 1200 tons of sea bass, red mullet, and shrimp (Time Magazine, 2009). If all of the fish farms in Canada could be so sustainable, we would have no issues with aquaculture whatsoever.
  • Social: There are some important social aspects that relate to aquaculture. Many people are of the belief that farmed fish are much healthier than wild fish, because that is what the government and the large aquaculture businesses would have us believe. This leads to a huge variety of opinions about aquaculture in society itself, and the social battles that are so often fought about the issue are, in many instances, fought by people that the government and the large businesses just convinced with faulty information. There is also a huge possible consequence. As stated above, there is a chance that aquaculture could cause the collapse of West Coast fisheries. This would be disastrous socially, as thousands of people would lose jobs, and nearly the entire credibility of the fishing industry would be shattered. Furious fishermen would spread their experiences and their opinions about aquaculture, no matter what was done to cover up the evidence that points towards aquaculture, and the entire world would experience this.

  • Political: It would be wonderful to say that our government is pushing for sustainable fish farms, like "Veta la Palma" in Spain, but that is not the case at all. Our government is
    exposing the study.png
    This is a screenshot of the part of the study "Dewailly et al" that describes the actual data sample. The circled area is the salmon sample.
    one of the worst culprits in this entire issue, because they are allowing large businesses to do so much. They are completely ignoring public health interest in order for them to turn a pretty profit on aquaculture, and allowing the large businesses to shamelessly deny any evidence against them. In fact, I was looking at the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance website, and on it, they list all of the health benefits of their salmon. Not until the very end do they give any mention of the possible health risks of their salmon, and even then, they totally deny that there are enough levels of contaminants to cause any health risks at all. I found this fishy, because they kept listing the same source in tiny print over and over again for their numbers on the levels of contaminants (Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, 2012). The source was a study called "Dewailly et al," made in 2007. It seemed like a normal study at first glance, and as I skimmed over it, I saw that it matched the information given by the Canadian Aquaculture website. Almost by accident, as I was about to leave the page, I noticed something. The study used 56 samples in total. This included 46 farmed fish and 10 wild fish (Dewailly, Ayotte, Lucas, Blanchet, 2007). Not only is this a ridiculously low amount of samples for the Canadian Aquaculture website to base all of their health information on, but the imbalance is practically insane. Why would the study use 36 more farmed fish than wild fish, and how much did this skew the results, I had to wonder? These are not questions that I can answer, but it certainly isn't right that this would be the only study referenced by the Canadian Aquaculture website, as opposed to "Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon," which used 2 metric tons of wild and farmed samples. Our government is supposed to protect us from this kind of dangerous secrecy, and if enough people found out about this, it would be disastrous for the industry and the government.

In conclusion, there is little excuse for our aqua cultural state. We cannot continue the way we've been going, with pollution, invasive species, parasites and diseases, human health risks, and efforts to cover all this up by large businesses. We cannot allow our government to sit back and watch the profit roll in, while all of these very real issues are going on in their own country. However, we also can't ignore the economic benefits of aquaculture, and the environmental benefits it can have if done sustainably. There is no more waiting to do, we need to change things before we are confronted with the collapse of the fishing industry, or a scandal that cripples the industry anyways. We can leave all of this behind us if we want, and be the example for other countries to follow, which would be wonderful, considering our current international reputation. Imagine if we were to change all of our fish farms to match "Veta la Palma." Certainly it would be difficult, but think about the benefits. The fish feed is self-generating, the water cleaning system is natural, there are next to no parasites or diseases to worry, about, and it turns in huge amounts of fish each year. How fast would we regain the money we used to create these self-regulating systems? It would definitely be worth it after a number of years, and it is all very possible, because there is already a working example of it. We can phase out our current fish farms, and phase in different versions of a more sustainable fish farm over time. I know we can be that international example that we so often used to be, it just takes innovation. The way that we are doing aquaculture is atrocious, and needs to leave as soon as possible, but aquaculture doesn't have to leave because it can be sustainable.

Works Cited

  1. BCSalmonFacts. "Take a tour of a salmon farm." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. YouTube, 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 2 June 2012. <>.
  2. Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. "Salmon: Health and Nutrition: Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance." Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, 2012. Web. 10 June 2012. <>.
  3. Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. "Economic Benefits: Aquaculture in Canada: Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance." About CAIA: Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, 2012. Web. 25 May 2012. <>.
  4. Clark, Bruce, John K. Wallace, and Kim Earle. "Chapter 21: Fishing: An Industry At the Crossroads." Making connections: Canada's geography. Toronto: Pearson Education, 1999. 256-257. Print.
  5. Dewailly, E, P Ayotte, M Lucas, and C Blanchet. "Worksheet: Dewailly et al 2007." USDA Evidence Library. USDA, 2010. Web. 10 June 2012. <>.
  6. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. "Aquaculture Canada: Facts and Figures." Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 June 2012. <>.
  7. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. "Aquaculture in Canada 2012: A Report on Aquaculture Sustainability." Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2012. Web. 2 June 2012. <>.
  8. Hites, Ronald, Jeffery Foran, David Carpenter, M Hamilton, Barbara Knuth, and Steven Schwager. "Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon." Science. AAAS, 9 Jan. 2004. Web. 2 June 2012. <>.
  9. InTecSciWri. "Aquaculture." Wikidot. Wikidot, 6 Apr. 2008. Web. 25 May 2012. <>.
  10. Misswat. "Aquaculture and You - An Educational Journey." Glogster. Glogster, 2012. Web. 10 June 2012. <>.
  11. Perez, Daniel. "Sustainable Aquaculture: Net Profits - TIME." Time Magazine. Time, 15 June 2009. Web. 2 June 2012. <,9171,1902751,00.html?cnn=yes>.
  12. Simmonds, M, K Haraguchi, T Endo, F Cipriano, S Palumbi, and G Troisi. "Human Health Significance of Organochlorine and Mercury Contaminants in Japanese Whale Meat." The Palumbi Lab. Stanford U, 2002. Web. 2 June 2012. <>.
  13. Young, Nathan, and Ralph Matthews. "The Aquaculture Controversy in Canada." UBC Press. UBC, 2010. Web. 25 May 2012. <>.
  14. No Author. "The Pros and Cons of Fish Farming - Advocacy For Animals." Encyclopedia Britannica Advocacy for Animals. Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 June 2012. <>.