The Aquaculture industry argue that there is no current direct scientific evidence explicitly linking open water aquaculture sites with the decline of wild salmon stocks, much the same as the tobacco lobby insisted that there could only ever be circumstantial statistical evidence linking cancer and other diseases with smoking. However, while any doubt exists, the DFO should act and carry out its mandate to protect the wild fish stocks and the health of the oceans.
Among many, two prevalent issues would remain if we are to ensure a successful and sustainable future for aquaculture - something crucial if we are to continue consuming fish while preserving the essential and irreplaceable benefits the earth’s seas, lakes, rivers and oceans provide. First, all aquaculture should be land based and carried out in closed containment systems. Second, the scale and volume of production per system should be kept at a viable size to reduce the likelihood of disease.
The first option is possible using current techniques and technologies. Even salt water fish can be farmed in closed containment systems, as evidenced by the multitude of Aquaria operating throughout the world today. Isolating and sealing these systems from interfering with natural processes is a must.
The second issue is thornier, and could provide a potential toe hold for arguments against the abandonment of larger open sea systems. However, it needs to be addressed and there are solutions. Many of the arguments made by consumers against the practice of farming fish altogether revolve around the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in these environments, steps made necessary by the diseases and parasites that flourish in crowded pens. These are real concerns, not just affecting the taste and appeal of the product, but also our own health and the health of the environment surrounding the current systems under review. Smaller systems can reduce, or even eliminate, the need for these controlling substances. Smaller, less concentrated schools of fish raised in environments where close control of the quality of the water can lead to healthier, tastier fish. As for profitability, closed containment systems can use more natural mechanisms for controlling the waste and toxins that accumulate in closed systems. Integrated systems that use natural symbiotic relationships, mimicking nature itself, can not only keep a cleaner environment inside of and outside of the water column, but also produce a secondary crop that can help subsidise what could be a more expensive means of raising fish. By using plants, herbs and vegetables planted in hydroponic rafts, to filter out the contaminants generated by the fish and surplus food, a second, potentially more profitable crop can be generated by these farms.
The DFO together with provincial and local authorities must investigate the means of streamlining and simplifying the licensing of this type of operation. Given the combined nature of this type of agribusiness - producing both fish and plants for consumption - the regulatory boundaries make it extremely complex. However, if these businesses were allowed to flourish we could see the start of small footprint, urban integrated aquaculture and hydroponic (aquaponic) farms - good for oceans, fish, and the environment.