Current farming and food production techniques will not be adequate to supply our growing global demand for fresh food, water and energy. A major shift in the global food supply system is going to be required – and farming our oceans is going to have a large role to play in that. We are actively working to meet environmental requirements and operate in a socially responsible manner.
Why farmed salmon?
Atlantic farmed salmon is one of Mother Nature’s super foods. It contains Omega-3s, protein, essential fatty acids, anti-oxidants, minerals (zinc, copper, iron, manganese and selenium), vitamins (A, D, E and a range of B’s), as well as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
Eating salmon has been shown to help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease and is recommended as part of a healthy diet by the World Health Organization and Canada’s Food Guide.
On the inside we are all the same. When it comes down to nutrients, vitamins, minerals and proteins, farmed Atlantic salmon is no different from wild Atlantic salmon.
How big is a salmon farm?
Well, it depends on what type of farm we are talking about. Right now on the West Coast of Canada, we use rectanglular farm systems which are about the size of three football fields. But on the East Coast of Canada, the conditions are more suitable to round farms, called polar circles. The area of these circles is roughly the same as a rectanglular system.
Is farmed Atlantic salmon good for you?
Yes and yes. Farmed Atlantic salmon is delicious, nutritious and a healthy source of protein, Omega-3s, minerals and vitamins. It has been proved to help reduce cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. If eaten regularly, it can also help reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Will salmon farming impact our local fisheries like lobster, shrimp or ground fish?
We don’t think so. In fact, we are hoping we can work together and add value to your seafood and fisheries through increased and improved infrastructure and research and technology development. In the coming months, we will be working with local researchers, industry and associations to make sure that if we were to come here to farm, we would not have a negative impact on any local fisheries.
Where are you proposing to put salmon farms?
Right now we have a few regions we are looking at, but we need to gather a lot more information before we can look at specific spots. The regions we are looking at include the Guysborough and Richmond areas and St. Mary’s Bay.
Would Cermaq hire locally?
Absolutely. Our business model is built on having our offices, processing plants, hatcheries and employees located near our farms. On the West Coast, we employ between 250 and 300 employees, the vast majority of which are local community members.
What is in the pellets you feed your fish?
In order to keep our fish, happy, healthy and growing at a predictable rate, we source and contract feed through responsible suppliers such as Skretting and EWOS. Both companies use sustainable sources for their food ingredients, and have excellent traceability.
Atlantic salmon are omnivorous and their food is made to mimic what they’d eat in the wild. We know that Atlantic salmon will eat most things they encounter such as zooplankton, plant-materials, insects, small fish, krill and shrimp. The pellets we feed our salmon contain both plant-based (about 70 percent) and animal-based ingredients (about 30 percent) to replicate this diet.
The fish oil contained in the feed is fat from fish parts or industrial fish (fish that is not intended for human consumption). Fish oil has a high content of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Fishmeal is from fish heads and other parts that are not consumed by humans and contains proteins and minerals. Fish protein concentrate is made from scrapings from the consumer fishing industry. It is important to note that the pellets do not contain any salmon fishmeal or oil.
Vegetable ingredients in fish feed are derived from plants like soy, sunflowers, rapeseed, corn, broad beans and wheat. The vegetable products are a source of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Fish feed also contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The antioxidant astaxanthin – which wild salmon get from eating crustaceans – is added to salmon feed to boost the fish’s immune system, protect their tissue and provide vitamin A. It is also what gives salmon its red colour. There are no added dyes or agents to change the colour of the salmon’s tissue. The astaxanthin that farmed salmon eat are sourced from krill, shrimp and other natural sources.
The cost of feed represents over half of the business cost for salmon farming. We want to make sure that we have minimal waste for cost reasons, but also to lessen our benthic (ocean floor) impact. We closely monitor fish behavior, water temperature and weather and adjust our feeding to match real time conditions. In our hatcheries and at our farm sites, feeding is closely monitored through the use of underwater cameras, visual inspections and water sampling to ensure we are not overfeeding.
What kind of farm might you operate here on the East Coast?
There are several types of Atlantic salmon farm systems, each one tailored specifically to meet the needs of the environment. We think the “polar circle” farm would be best suited to Nova Scotia conditions.
Circular farms perform better in higher energy waves and weather. On the West Coast of Canada in more sheltered waters, we operate rectanglular pen farms.
Both farm system types – polar circle and rectangle – consist of the same components such as employee accommodation, feed storage and automated feeding systems, pens for the fish and predator nets. Our farms are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I saw the Lousy Option report which was released by the Living Oceans Society in the fall of 2018. Has Cermaq read the report? Do you agree with its findings?
The information contained in the Living Oceans Society Lousy Choices report was compiled, in part, from a report published by Mainstream Biological Consulting which is available on the Cermaq website.
The wild salmon monitoring program which is documented in the report is voluntary, independent and carried out at arm’s length. Cermaq fully supports this work by providing resources, access to our sites, and sharing information and data.
With the unique conditions witnessed in the Clayoquot Sound and at some Cermaq farms during the summer of 2018 – Cermaq made the decision to extend the monitoring program of wild salmon past the out migration period to ensure the full extent of the unusual weather and resulting sea lice population were accurately captured so that we can be fully prepared for subsequent similar situations.
The report claims that declining wild salmon populations is due to salmon farming. The answer is simply not true, nor is it that simple. There are many contributing factors which are known to impact wild salmon populations – and Cermaq in an active participant in the Clayoquot Salmon Roundtable which is looking at all factors, including salmon farms, which may impact the survival of wild salmon populations.
The report cover is misleading as it features a juvenile salmon (smolt) with noticeable Caligus sea lice, a species of lice native to local herring populations. Herring lice are generally found within herring populations – as the name implies – so finding them on a salmon in high numbers is unusual in itself.
All of this is to say that the unusual weather experienced in the region did contribute to overall higher sea lice populations and other factors harmful to salmon such as warmer water temperatures, algal blooms and much higher than average salinity (salt levels) levels due to the lack of rain.
Providing some clarity of fish sampling numbers within the Lousy Choices report:
In the Executive Summary of the Lousy Choices report, on pages three and four, the number of salmon in the sample pool is 742, and for clarification, of those fish:
- 59 per cent (59%) did not have any sea lice;
- Of the 41 per cent (41%) which did have sea lice, only 24 per cent (24%) had two or more lice;
- Less than 15 per cent (15 percent) of the sampled fish were under 0.5 grams in size and 90% of these had no sea lice;
- The authors might have missed the sample weight detail, which is available in appendix three of the Mainstream Biologicals report;
- The herring pictured on page four of the report was sampled near Hot Springs Cove, and it is important to note that this location is well over 20 kilometres from salmon farms. Even more importantly, the lice is a Caligus species, commonly known as the herring louse, and are not the species causing concern for salmon;
- The lice that causes problems for salmon is Lepeophtheirus Salmonis – commonly known as the salmon louse;
In the report, it states that no sockeye salmon were caught and only one pink was included in the sampling. Sockeye salmon are typically sampled in open water and not along the shoreline while Pink salmon have historically never been abundant in Clayoquot Sound.
Based on the conditions experienced last summer, are sea lice going to be a problem for Cermaq if they do open farms in Nova Scotia? How will you manage them here?
Sea lice are a husbandry issue for the aquaculture industry and we know it is an important concern for residents. We have been monitoring and reporting sea lice levels since 2005 (14 years) with a very high level of compliance and low levels of sea lice.
Part of scoping work over the coming months will be to look at local issues, such as sea lice, and learn more about the ocean conditions, historical data and local treatment options.
We do know that in Nova Scotia there is a concern regarding the lobster fishery and the use of pesticides, and if we were to proceed, this would shape how we treat and manage sea lice populations.
As a company, our focus on sea lice treatment has shifted to area-based management such as the use of farm site rotation and fallowing, and other tools such as the physical removal, capture and disposal of lice with equipment like our Hydrolicer. We have also looked at more extreme options, such as an accelerated harvest schedule, in situations where we are seeing high sea lice levels during sensitive periods for wild salmon (during the outmigration of in the spring) or other fisheries.
As an example, the conditions experienced in the Clayoquot Sound region off the west coast of Vancouver Island were unusual which created an ideal sea lice environment. The weather was warm and dry, which led to warmer ocean temperatures and increased water salinity (increase in salt levels due to lack of fresh water from rain and run off). Due to this, sea lice of all types (there are several species of sea lice) were seen in large quantities across the region, including areas well away from salmon farms.
We did treat our fish using traditional sea lice treatments (in-feed medication and the use of hydrogen peroxide baths) but continued to see above average sea lice numbers throughout the late summer and fall.
In one particular situation at our Fortune Channel farm site located in the Clayoquot Sound region, we had small fish which had been stocked in the spring of 2018. Those fish faced some tough environmental challenges shortly after they were entered into the ocean farm – like increased ocean temperatures and increased plankton – which affected their health and gill condition, making them increasingly susceptible to sea lice. The fish were treated using SLICE and hydrogen peroxide baths with limited success due to their overall poor health (less than a kilogram). Additional hydrogen peroxide treatments would require additional handling, which results in increased stress for the fish. All of these factors when combined added to the overall complexity of the situation resulting in poor overall fish health and an increasing susceptibility to sea lice.
Cermaq’s fish health and production teams took all of this into consideration for treatment options, and ultimately, the team made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the fish using a nature based anesthetic and close the site.
The decision had a large financial implications for us an organization and took a toll on our farm employees who were working to support the fish. Ultimately, the tough decision was made as it was the right thing to do for both the wild and farmed salmon populations in the region. The farmed fish were never going to recover well, and would remain a target for sea lice. This would result in overall increased sea lice counts in the sound and would have a negative impact on both wild salmon and farmed salmon at other farms.
We continue to look for new non-therapeutic treatments (ones which do not contain pesticides or medications) and ways to effectively treat for sea lice – including the use of mechanical removal – such as a Hydrolicer which removes and captures sea lice for later disposal on land. We also continue to look for other technologies and innovations as the more tools we have for treatment, we will improve the health and welfare of both wild and framed populations.
What is a Hydrolicer?
A Hydrolicer Is a large purpose-built barge, which is capable of delousing large numbers of salmon in a 100 per cent (100%) environmentally friendly way since it uses water pressure (approximately 34 PSI, or similar to a kitchen faucet) to loosen then remove the lice from the fish. It then contains the removed lice and eggs for disposal on land, and sends the filtered ocean water back into the sea. The machine uses no medications or pesticides and introduces minimal stress to the fish.
The whole process – from start to end lakes less than a minute for the fish (which helps to reduce overall stress), and we are able to treat an entire farm site in two to three days.
How do you treat for sea lice at your farms?
At our current operations, we use a combination of area-based management techniques, medications, animal husbandry and pesticides. As an organization, we are moving towards using mechanical removal options over traditional medications and pesticides but recognize that in some situations, all tools may need to be utilized.
We can start by talking about area-based management, which is our practice of rotating our active production between our farms sites, which also us to stock farms, or fallow them depending on a few factors such as known wild salmon migration routes. By doing this, we allow for less transmission of sea lice to our farmed salmon which provides benefits to both populations. Our farmed salmon benefit from overall lower sea lice counts and the wild population benefits as sea lice levels are not increased in an area due to farm populations.
We also use bubble curtains at our farms. The curtains are created by running aeration tubing along the bottom borders of our farm which, when activated, create a wall of bubbles which help to reduce the ability of sea lice of harmful algae from passing through. The use of upwelling within our opens is also used. For this process, we use an underwater pump from below the farm to bring colder, oxygen-rich water from beneath the farm to help increase oxygen and create natural currents within the farm. The cold water is a deterrent for sea lice who prefer warmer water with high salinity.
We do use traditional in-feed treatments for sea lice, such as SLICE. This treatment provides our fish with a small dose of emamectin benzoate (0.2%) which is a pesticide effective against sea lice. We monitor the feeding of our salmon very closely through the use of underwater camera and watching feeding activity from above the pens. If slowed feeding behavior is noted, feeding is immediately stopped, and farmers will try again later. visual as we don’t want to waste feed pellets.
We have also made a significant investment in a new custom built Hydrolicer, which ash the ability to pull fish of all sized from the pen into a large intake tube, where fish then pass through two chambers. The first chamber used pressurized ocean water (not heated or collected) to first loosen the sea lice, while the second uses pressurized ocean water spraying in the opposite direction to then remove, captain and contain the sea lice. The pressure is 34kpi, which is comparable to an average kitchen faucet. Once complete, the fish are then sent back into a pen, the ocean water used for the process is triple filtered to ensure we have caught and contained all sea lice, eggs or other biological materials and then returned to the ocean. The total treatment time is less than a minute per fish. The captured sea lice are stored on-board the vessel and then disposed of on land the next time the vessel docks.
We have used hydrogen peroxide bath treatments in well-boats at our operations here in western Canada, but knowing the sensitivities in the region due to the lobster, crab, shrimp and other bi-valve fishing and farming, we would be looking to use these other tools for sea lice management at our farms.
Artist’s rendering of the Cermaq Canada Hydrolicer, scheduled
to arrive at our Tofino operations in late May, 2019
Do salmon farms smell?
Salmon farms do not smell, and we actually take active steps towards ensuring the sites have no odours for a few reasons.
The first is simple. Our fish need clean water in which to live. Throwing garbage in the water is not permitted or tolerated and we have stringent handling rules for proper disposal of waste. All site waste is kept in air-tight containers and regularly picked up and transported back to the Island for proper disposal and recycling
The second is recognizing that we operate in rugged, remote and beautiful sites, which are also home to predators such as bears, orcas, seals, eagles and dolphins. We do not want to attract these animals to our sites for the safety of both the animals and our employees. In order to make our sites less appealing, we maintain high-levels of cleanliness at all times. We collect any mortalities that occur on a daily basis so as not to attract predators either from below or from above. Once collected, the fish are ground and mixed with diluted acid mixture and then stored it all in an air-tight silage container. The silage is regularly picked up and then purchased for use in fertilizers and other value-add products.
We also recognize that in some areas in which operate, we aren’t the only residents. In some locations, we are close to luxury resorts, summer cottages, and other industry such as whale watching and guided fishing excursions. We want to ensure we continue to be good neighbours and recognize the role in having clean, tidy and scent free farms has in the overall use of a region.
If we were to proceed in Nova Scotia, we would apply these same practices and procedures, and ensure we act in a responsible manner and as good neighbours.
Salmon farms are high-density feed lots which don’t allow any room for fish to swim. What is the density rate at Cermaq farms?
Cermaq operates at density levels which have shown to be the best for the health and welfare of our fish. Salmon are naturally schooling and do naturally school and travel in large groups. The flip side of this, is that if salmon are too crowded they can become stressed.
Working with our fish health team, and looking at data compiled over recent decades on both wild and farmed fish, we operate at a maximum density level of four harvest-size fish (our fish are approximately 5.5 kilograms when ready for harvest) per cubic metre of water. This allows plenty of space for the fish to swim, move, feed and interact naturally.
Where does all the excess food go that you feed to your fish? Does it collect on the bottom of the sea under the farm?
Feed is the largest cost for salmon farmers so all feedings are closely monitored. Our farmers monitor feedings two ways – by watching the fish from the farm system deck, and also by watching feeding behaviour in the pens using several underwater cameras per pen to monitor how actively the fish are feeding and if any pellets are dropping. If the fish aren’t actively eating, then the feeding system is stopped, and employees will continue to monitor fish behaviour and attempt feeding at a later time. As a result, we do not typically find accumulated excess feed under our farms.
Where does all of the fish waste go?
Fish do produce waste, just like any living creature. The large majority for Atlantic salmon waste – about 85 per cent (85%) – is liquid and is released as ammonia and nitrogen. The remaining 15 per cent (15%) is solid. The reason the percentage of solid waste is quite low is that salmon are very efficient at converting food into energy and as a result, produce much less solid waste than other species.
To get into some math – lets base the following calculations on a typical modern salmon farm, which has between six and 10 pens and has a licence to grow about 800,000 fish over a normal growing cycle of about 18 months. Using modern farm siting tools (which incorporate benthic modelling which looks at depth of the ocean below the farm as well as the speed and direction of ocean currents and typical weather and storm activity) we know that the typical impact field from a farm is about 80 hectares (or 198 acres). When siting farms, we want to use sites which have a high dispersion area (area where the impacts are spread) as it helps to reduce the overall impact per hectare.
Back to the math. Using all of this data, we can estimate that from this farm we would see about 41.6 metric tonnes of waste per month, or 750 metric tonnes in total over the 18-month growth cycle. This breaks down further into 1.3 metric tonnes of solid waste per day. Using the modelling, we know that this impact is spread over 80 hectares, so that further breaks down into about 17 kilograms per hectare per day.
For context, an average cow in the field creates about 30 kilograms of solid waste per day and there is usually more than one cow per hectare.
And one last point, in the context of the ocean, fish waste equals nutrients. The ocean is where fish waste should be (for the benefit of the ecosystem). This is how nature re-circulates nutrients which contribute to an overall healthy ecosystem.
Does fish waste harm the environment?
There are a few layers to this question, so let’s start with the liquid waste from Atlantic salmon.
About 85 per cent (85%) of waste from Atlantic salmon is liquid, and most of this is in the form of nitrogen, predominantly ammonia. Ammonia in itself is easily absorbed by phytoplankton, and plays an important role in the marine nitrogen cycle which supports many different processes including nutrient absorption, oxygenation and decomposition. This ammonia is quickly absorbed within the ocean ecosystem and is only found in trace levels in the water column at around 500 metres in depth.
As for the other 15 per cent (15%) of the waste which is solid, this waste falls to the ocean floor within the on averages 80 hectares (198 acres) impact area. This area is closely monitored prior to stocking, during a production cycle and after harvest. There are strict rules governing detectable levels of ammonia, nitrogen, etc. within the benthic zones (area of ocean floor which is impacted by the farming operations). For instance, benthic samples must be taken from impact areas below a far which show acceptable levels of ammonia, nitrogen and also show a healthy biological growth and microorganisms before a site can be stocked.
As a general practice, Cermaq uses area-based management techniques such as fallow of sites (allowing sites to rest between fish restocking, similar to methods used by traditional agriculture farmers). This helps to reduce the overall impact and supports healthy ocean floors.
Another process which helps to minimize our impact is the close monitoring of our feeding process. We monitor fish during feeding using underwater cameras – several per pen – as well as visual observations of our farmers from the farm system. Feed is the largest cost for salmon farmers, so feeding is closely monitored to ensure the feed is being actively eaten.