VANCOUVER and HALIFAX — Shoppers should continue to avoid Canadian open-net farmed salmon.
U.S.-based Seafood Watch’s sustainability ratings of Canadian farmed salmon is a win for West Coast wild salmon but problematic for those on the East Coast, according to SeaChoice, Canada’s sustainable seafood watchdog.
Following a downgrade, British Columbia salmon farms are once again rated Red (meaning consumers should “Avoid”; i.e., don’t buy); New Brunswick and Newfoundland salmon farms also remain Red, while Nova Scotia farms are, concerningly, rated Yellow (meaning a “good alternative”; i.e., Okay, but think twice about buying).
For B.C. farmed salmon, Seafood Watch’s shift in rating from Yellow to Red reflects concerns around the population-level impacts of sea lice and disease transmission from farmed fish to wild salmon. “High sea lice loads on farms, elevated by ineffective lice management and several instances of drug resistance, continue to be a significant threat to the growth and survival of out-migrating juvenile wild salmon,” said Martin Krkosek, associate professor and Canada research chair in marine epidemiology at the University of Toronto.
“This red-rating should shrink the market for B.C. farmed salmon, because reputable retailers won’t want to carry a product that is associated with placing wild salmon at risk from unmitigated pathogens and uncontrolled sea lice outbreaks,” said Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative for Living Oceans Society.
On Canada’s other fish-farming coast, Nova Scotia’s Yellow rating was higher than neighbouring New Brunswick and Newfoundland in several categories, including disease, escapes and chemical use.
“It’s troubling to see Nova Scotia with a higher rating here,” said Simon Ryder-Burbidge, SeaChoice representative from the Ecology Action Centre. “We are the only province in Canada that doesn’t publicly report sea lice counts, and river monitoring data for escaped farmed fish is almost nonexistent relative to New Brunswick and Newfoundland. The scoring system seems to incentivize a data-poor environment.”
The Seafood Watch assessment acknowledges the limited data availability for Nova Scotia, but fails to take a sufficiently precautionary approach to scoring in a region where wild Atlantic salmon populations are nearing extirpation. “Nova Scotia has by far and away the most endangered wild Atlantic salmon populations in Canada,” says Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, Killam Memorial Chair in Fish, Fisheries and Oceans with Dalhousie University. “For many of these rivers, even a few escaped farmed fish, especially when they breed with wild salmon, can have a detrimental effect on the natural populations.”
Seafood Watch uses a traffic light rating system for seafood (Green is considered “best choice,” Yellow is a “good alternative” and Red means “avoid”). A Yellow rating should not be equated with sustainability, but rather indicates that concerns remain with the farming practices. The Nova Scotia assessment received a score of 4.96 out of 10.
“We recommend that shoppers avoid purchasing all Canadian open net-pen farmed salmon, regardless of provenance due to the risk to wild salmon populations on both coasts,” said Kilian Stehfest, SeaChoice representative from David Suzuki Foundation. The Canadian-based Ocean Wise seafood rating program continues to not recommend any West or East Coast open net-pen farmed salmon.
The downgraded assessment for B.C. salmon farms puts their product in the incongruous position of being both Red-rated and certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council for sustainability. This is largely because the ASC has given all B.C. farms a “pass” on the assessment criterion for sea lice, continuing to certify farms with lice loads orders of magnitude higher than that prescribed by the ASC Salmon Standard.