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Buying the salmon farm

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As the province works to restore depleted salmon runs, the spotlight has fallen on the controversial practice of salmon farming.

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Unless, of course, you run out of fish – in which case that man, his family, and billions of other people are in serious trouble.

Due to overfishing and the widespread use of fishing methods that destroy habitats and tamper with the natural biodiversity of the ocean, fish stocks around the world have been in a serious decline for the past two decades.

Whole fisheries have been closed, starting with the cod fishery in Eastern Canada back in 1992 – the legendary Grand Banks fishing grounds had been decimated.

There have been other isolated fishery moratoriums ever since, many of those taking place on the West Coast and targeting specific species and runs of salmon. These closures have led to bitter disputes between the U.S. and Canada, and have brought uncertainty to an industry that was once the pride of the west.

For Canada, that industry was worth up to $100 million annually, but diminishing stocks have led to diminishing returns. These days, salmon runs fluctuate wildly, declining by as much as 70 per cent in some areas.

The number of salmon bearing streams was also reduced by development and resource extraction, although the guilty parties – notably logging and urban sprawl – are taking more responsibility for the renewal and care of fisheries.

The federal government, making an honest appraisal of the industry, came to the conclusion that so long as developments and catch sizes continued, salmon stocks would never fully recover. In 1999 they bought back more than 1,400 salmon fishing licenses, representing almost half of the entire salmon fleet, at a cost of $191 million.

The decline didn’t hurt market prices however, or taint the popularity of salmon – and when there’s a demand, you can trust human resourcefulness to find a supply.

Fish farming is practised around the world, and on both coasts of Canada. Fish are born and raised in floating cages like so much cattle on the range. The expense of raising them is on par with the costs associated with commercial fishing, so there is very little price difference by the time it goes to market. Farmed fish are rarely labelled as such at the market.

There are 104 fish farm sites along B.C.’s coast, 98 of which are operational. A moratorium on new farm sites has been in place since the spring of 1995, when the provincial government could no longer ignore questions about the environmental big picture.

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