Trudeau to destroy another resource industry in the west… but to the chagrin of the Feds Alberta could benefit


Albertans are used to being singled out by the Trudeau government as a target to destroy our resource-based economy. But we are not alone, in a mandate letter to the new federal Fisheries Minister he commanded the Minister to “work with BC and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open-net salmon farming in coastal BC waters by 2025.” That would be the same “transition” word Liberals use about phasing out the oilsands. That mandate caused an immediate uproar in the BC fish farming industry including First Nations involved in that business who see the termination of their industry. The delusion promoted by anti-open net salmon farming activists and political parties is that the entire industry can just be moved onto land-based containment rearing systems. Like with the delusion of creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs in Alberta to replace our energy industry that level of wilful ignorance is truly astounding.
The BC salmon farming industry involves 7,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in annual business mainly based in remote locations on Vancouver Island. There is only one reason why the industry is based there – because open-net farms require sheltered sea water locations for low-cost salmon production. If they are no longer allowed to operate in that way, commercial fish farming companies will just close down and move or expand their salmon operations in other parts of the world. As to land-based total containment fish farming operations, there is no economic rationale in building such expensive facilities on Vancouver Island. Trucking fish food a thousand miles to a remote island land operation just to truck out harvested salmon thousands of miles to markets is a sure-fire recipe for bankruptcy – the ferries alone would be a massive burden in costs and time lost. A modest prototype total land-based operation on Vancouver Island has consistently lost money despite receiving $10 million in government grants. The reality is without low-cost open net fish farming the industry is not viable anywhere on the BC coast.
The BC government probably understands that eliminating open-net fish farming will be the demise of industry and the loss of jobs in remote coastal areas. They probably also understand that if land-based salmon farming operations are to be successful they will need vast economies of scale, be close to a large source of fish food, and be within reasonable trucking distance to major north American markets. I would suggest that any commercial entity contemplating a vast land-based operation would quickly realize that faraway coastal BC would be the last location on their list. Interestingly, southern Alberta would rank high on the list for a major world-class land-based containment salmon-farming operation. Here’s why – fish food is a major production cost and due to their carnivorous nature, salmon require some fish oil and fish meal in their fattening diet. Those ingredients were usually available in coastal fishing areas. But Cargill, an animal feed processing company, has developed a strain of Canola that supplies the exact omega oil and meal nutrient requirements as original rendered fish products. That variety of fish food Canola is being grown for Cargill right next door in Montana. No need to haul that feed a thousand miles and ferry rides to remote BC coastal sites if commercial fish farming operations were in southern Alberta. Transportation logistics are also well-developed in southern Alberta – thousands of trucks and railcars already transport millions of tons of beef, pork and other food products from Alberta to every part of north America. But there is more.
Can you imagine the regulatory and environmental protocol nightmare the BC government and its green group allies would inflict on any commercial sized land-based containment operation proposal. Its not the same, but Alberta already has long experience with commercial intensive meat production with cattle feedlot production and beef processing. Those regulatory, environmental and management processes are a precedent for industrialized fish (feedlot-type) farming. We also have the land, water and low-cost utilities. Heck with all the solar and wind power, Alberta could produce the most sustainable salmon in the world. I would suggest if they are already not doing so the Alberta government in its diversification goals might want to seriously study the potential of salmon feedlot-type farming in Alberta. Providing the right type of incentives might allow Alberta to steal-away a billion-dollar industry from those self-righteous folks in BC. How satisfying that would be. More devious Federal fish policy next time. Will Verboven is an ag opinion writer and ag policy consultant.