Odd Grydeland is the director of BC Salmon Farmers Association based in Campbell River, British Columbia.


What is your take on the ongoing controversy over salmon farming in British Columbia?

I think there's definitely there is a lot of hype going on. I think this is a relatively new business that we are in, farming salmon in the beautiful British Columbia. And as we sometimes joke about, there's a price for doing business in paradise.

But I think there's a huge need for the public at large to get a better understanding of what salmon farming is all about. How it's carried on, how its carried out, how it's regulated and how it's managed. And I think if people had a better understanding of that the controversy would would to a large extent go away. We are producing a wonderful product in an environmentally safe manner and that's what we need to educate people about.

Many NGO’s have created an education movement about wild salmon - how is that affecting you?

Well, its frustrating in a way because both wild and farmed salmon is a very healthy product, a very good product. It's got a list of health benefits as long as my arm. And I just feel frustrated that we haven't been able to find a way of working together with the wild fish industry.

We are making attempts in that regard and I'm hoping that before too long we can find a way of working together to promote both wild and farmed salmon. They're both excellent products and and they should be enjoyed by chefs everywhere and the consumer alike.

Can you talk about the dyes in farmed salmon? We've heard the dye could be carcinogenic?

The salmon needs a product called carotinoid in it's diet to develop properly. The red color salmon egg comes from carotines you know which to salmon in the wild gets naturally from eating crustaceans.

In the early days of salmon farming this is how the farmed salmon got their color as well was from grinding up shrimp shells and so on and giving it to the fish in the feed. However that's not very digestible and therefore created a lot of waste around farms.

So now we use synthetic carotids which again is essential for proper development of the fish to be a healthy animal and it just so happens it colors the flesh of the fish pink as well. Farmed salmon, like wild salmon, has the ability to deposit this pigment into their flesh to give it it's nice red color.

And some fish or some salmon are better at that then others. Like you take a sock eye which can absorb a lot of that pigment where as pink salmon is paler in color, you know. It's the same with farmed salmon - some are redder than others.
But its the same product that colors the wild salmon red as it is farmed salmon red. The only difference is that our pigment is made synthetically and the wild fish get it through the feed.

What kinds of changes has the industry has made in the last 5 years?

Well, I've been farming salmon in British Columbia for 17 years. And from the early days when we started with the wooden homemade pens that were 5x5 meters essentially we developed into what you see here today.

The modern farm like this here is typical for the industry in British Columbia: 12 cages about 100'x100', very heavy, very strong net, engineered anchoring, strict and routine environment monitoring, underwater cameras to make sure you don't waste any feed that goes through the pens.

We have better feeds, which results in more of the feed being digested by the fish itself, so again there is less waste going through the pens as well. So the industry has come a long way in the last 5 years there's been, I think, more improvements on a technical side than what we’ve seen in the past.

A lot of that technology comes from overseas in countries like Norway, where they have been farming for longer than we have here. But what you see here today is a well run well managed farm, environmentally safe and producing a wonderful product.

Do you think there are more improvements to come, or do you think you're at the state of the art?

Well, that's one of the exciting about this industry. It's been a steep learning curve and one day is never the same as the next. You always learn something new.

And yes there are a lot of things to be learned about aquacultre as well and I think that's where we in British Columbia have been good at adapting a regulatory program which is based on a principle of adaptive management.

You learn as you go and you change course as you gain experience. Right now I think it's a well regulated, well managed industry.

Is there a trend towards having lower stocking densities of fish in the pens, or is that not a problem?

I think salmon farming, like any other agriculture or livestock production, is certainly dependent to some extent on the amount of animals you can grow in a certain unit.

We have experimented with larger and smaller numbers of fish per farm here in British Columbia and what you see here today is a typical farm of 1/2 a million fish in 1200 wide cages. They're not happy to be away from each other - they operate in schools, they swim in schools.

There comes a time when there are too few fish in the population and there comes a time when there are too many fish in the population. And through trial and error I think we have found the balance of the number of fish that gives us a healthy bottom line and at the same time make sure that the fish has an environment that keeps them happy and healthy.

And as a stocking rate, numbers of fish per unit is acceptable to themselves and also to ourselves. Fish health is very important to us as well as it is to the fish.
On this site, do you have any idea what the stocking rate is?

The term kilo per qubic meter is somewhat of a misnomer, as much as a cage like this behind us here which has sometimes 35,00 or 40,000 fish in it. If you dive in this pen you'll see that typically the fish are swimming in a tightly formed school, close to the surface right now when they are getting fed for example.

You come here between feeding times, they'll be sitting close to the bottom. Again, a lot tighter then they could have been - they might have chosen to be far away from each other, but this is how they seem to be adapting to this environment.
This site has very good flushing, the water is rich in oxygen all the time and any waste products gets flushed away from the farm here on a routine basis and it's a good environment for the fish to grow in.

It seems like Atlantics and Chinooks are starting to be grown here?

T he Salmon Farmers Association represents about 99% of the producers here in British Columbia. So, I think I can speak for the industry per say. Atlantic salmon has been the favorite animal to grow here in our farms, because of its acceptance of domestication.

They're used to being on a farm, they're easy to handle, they take less feed to grow to a certain weight, they’re also able to be grown in higher densities, which of course is more economical for us.

There are some companies farming pacific salmon and the percentage may be growing right now but, in general, the world market is looking for Atlantic salmon. That's the product they are familiar with, they know how to prepare it and they know the quality of it.

Some critics have concerns that the raising of Pacific salmon represents a potential risk to the wild stocks if there is an escape, because of their potential to genetically dilute the wild stocks. What’s your take on that?

Well, I think this is another example of the hype that's going around in this industry here in British Columbia. When you look at the 5 or 6 million pacific salmon that are introduced into salmon farms in BC every year, you compare that to the 1.5, or I should say, 1/2 a billion pacific salmon that's artificially spawned, fed the same feed that we give our fish, then released into the environment intentionally through the enhancement and the salmon hatcheries on an annual basis…

And we haven't had very many escapes from farms growing pacific salmon here as well as you can see from the records. So I think the issue again is totally overblown. In Alaska, the production of artificially reared wild salmon is about 1 1/2 billion every year.

So when you look at the 4 or 5 or 6 million fish that are introduced into salmon farms in British Columbia and you look at the records of basically no escapes, it's a non -issue that’s been totally overblown.

To what degree do you think that sea lice is a problem?

Well we have monitored our salmon, specifically our atlantic salmon, which due tend to get sea lice sometimes since we started farming them. We haven't had what we consider a problem with sea lice on our fish. We haven't seen numbers that have caused us grave concerns.

Occasionally we have treated for sea lice, but somehow we haven't seen the problems that are seen in other parts of the world. I think it's the responsibility of the salmon farmers to keep the sea lice down to a low level. Especially during a period of migration of wild stocks and we do take that responsibility seriously.
We are involved in a number of research studies right now to get a better understanding of an interaction between wild fish and farmed fish when it comes to sea lice. Sea lice do hatch in the ocean and the eggs drift in the tides - they do go both ways.

When we put our fish in the water, there is no lice on them, so our fish get lice from the wild fish and we have to make sure that the reverse transfer is not having a negative effect on wild populations.

How do you feel about the controversy in the Broughton Archipelago area, where supposedly the wild pink salmon didn't return in 2003?

Well, I think what we've seen is the pink populations in the world are quite spectacular. When you look two years back when the appearance of these fish didn't return and this last year were spawning in the rivers there was more fish there then they ever seen in the past.

And I think as Professor Dr. Herd from Alaska claims, when you have an older population coming into the spawning area, the off spring can be expected to be a lot lower than what you would normally see.

So, there are many opinions on this. I think there was no doubt there was a huge population of pink salmon in the 2000 spawning and the offspring seemed to have been jeopardized in some form or another. It could be feed related, lack of feed, it could be too many fish in the spawn grounds, you never know.

There could be sea lice on those fish too, there is no doubt there was sea lice in that area. Where those sea lice came from? Some of them could have come from our farm and some of them could have come from other reservoirs which are now being found during the monitoring of all the wild fish up there as well. And again, this is where we have to participate openly and honestly in research programs and that is what we are doing to get a better understanding of that whole situation.

Is it your sense then that lice are probably not connected with that problem?

Well, I think we don't understand that interaction well enough and I think that we have more work to do, but in general terms, we have a responsibility both to ourselves and our fish as well as to the wild fish to keep our sea lice levels on our fish down to a very low level and that's what we have been doing.

What are the procedures for monitoring?

Well what happens is that the spotlight was focused on this issue up in the Broughton and we, as an association, sat down with all our fish health people and we developed a monitoring program for sea lice industry-wide, which we implemented in January this year.

And then, specifically with the Broughton situation, the two companies operating up there got together with the provincial government and adopted a monitoring program which is very similar to the industry-wide one, which basically consists of sampling each farm in the area every two weeks for number of sea lice and classifying the sea lice as to development stages and species.

Is this something the industry does, or it's just something the provincial government recommends?

The industry has been doing it on its own since January this year, and although we have been doing it in previous years, this is the first time that the industry is using the same method and the same technology or the same process. Therefore we are now also releasing the results of those, monitoring data as well. So, the government and the two companies operating in the Broughton- they got together and designed a specific program for the Broughton, which is audited by the provincial government.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not directly involved in that monitoring program, but they're up there doing their own monitoring of the wild stocks up in that area. Later this year, all this data will be put together and analyzed and a report will be created.

We have seen low levels of sea lice in our farms since we started up there. We've been farming salmon up in the Broughton longer than anywhere else and we have not had what we considered a sea lice problem.

When you look at the number of sea lice that they saw on farmed salmon in Norway in '97 when they started their sea lice management program there, for example, it's ten times, twenty times the numbers that we ever see around our farms in British Columbia.

If you were to have a lice problem, how do you deal with it?

If we start seeing sea lice on our farms there's a number of things we can do. We can we can grade the fish, which we routinely do anyway. Certain type of grading operations have a tendency to remove the sea lice from the fish, and we can collect those sea lice and dispose of them. We can also harvest the fish if they are harvest size, or we can give them medicine in their feed to get rid of the sea lice as well.

What's the medicine?

Well anytime that we give medicine to our fish, which doesn't happen very often, we have our veterinarian analyze the situation and if it's decided to give the fish medicine, a prescription is issued by our veterinarian. A recipe goes into the female and a specific feed for that farm in question is made up, in specially marked bags, and sent out to the farm. It has to be given to the fish just like you would give penicillin to your kid -for a certain number of days and after that the fish has to go on a regular feed for a number of days before it can be harvested and used.

In Scotland, we interviewed a shellfisherman who said that the anti-sea lice chemicals were designed to dissolve the outer shell of the sea lice, but as such, that chemical is also decimating wild stocks of shellfish. Is there a specific medicine that's used here to avoid problems like that?

The only medicine that we use here in British Columbia right now is a product that is considered very safe for our fish as well as for shellfish and crustaceans.

I understand it has been tested on prawns and crabs right here in British Columbia with no ill effects and in Scotland where it's registered for use it's got a zero-withdrawal period after it's been used so it's been considered very safe for humans as well.

So we feel comfortable about using this product and we anticipate that it will be officially approved in Canada before very long. It's going through the registration process right now.

Does fallowing the netcages keep down spikes of lice populations?

Yes, fallowing is another routine management practice that we do encourage and we do use here in British Columbia where each farm like this will be left empty of fish for a period of time before we put new fish in it again.

And in an area like this, for example, where you have three or four farms in an inlet like this, we try to cooperate with our neighbors so that the whole area is fallowed at the same times to reduce any interaction between the previous generation and possible ailments that could go on to the next generation.

So is that something that happens that's routine, or only when there's some problem?

No, that's a routine management practice for all the farms in British Columbia year-round. It usually takes about year and a half to grow a generation like this so that leaves you with an ability to fallow that area for about six months before you put new fish in there again to go into the next cycle.

Alex Morton, a marine biologist, recommended fallowing certain sites in the Broughton after the collapse of the pinks up there. You very politely responded to her saying that you didn't think it was necessary. Any comments?

I think everybody has their opinion about salmon farming in British Columbia and I think you know what we try to do is to work closely with government and regulators and the scientifc community to manage issues like sea lice and other fish health issues as best as we can given the circumstances. Given what is known about these issues, you may not ever be able to satisfy everybody's needs by doing that but I think we're doing as best as we can. I think we're doing a pretty good job of it.

Have you heard anything about the pinks return this August?

The pinks, as far as I understand, would normally start showing up in July/ August, yeah. The parents of this generation coming back here this year were up in the rivers spawning in 2001, and that again was a record year for that cycle as well you know, so it'll be interesting to see what comes back.

I mean everybody's interested in having a healthy population of wild salmon in the Broughton as well as everywhere else and we have a responsibility and we have to find a way of working together with the managers of wild fish resources as well so we can demonstrate that we can coexist for the benefit of everybody.

Critics have charged that some companies site their farms directly in the migration paths of wild salmon. What’s your sense of this?

Well again, depending on who you talk to, the entire coast of British Columbia is a migratory route of wild salmon — that's probably true. And I think that, as I mentioned earlier, we have to find a way, and we have to manage our farms in a way that demonstrates coexistence with wild fish resources. That goes without saying, and that's the same in Broughton and as anywhere else. And based on what I know about the scientific knowledge around interaction between wild Pacific salmon and farmed salmon here in British Columbia, there are issues where we need more research and a better understanding. But by and large I think papers have been documenting that there is no significant negative effect on the way we farm salmon in British Columbia today on wild fish resources, including salmon.

Is the disease IHN (Infectious Hemotopoetic Necrosis) a major threat to wild salmon? What's your take?

I think it's important to understand how we manage fish health issues in general and for us salmon farmers, it starts with the taking of eggs from our brood stock, where the eggs and mill from each fish are kept separate until we have laboratory test results coming back to make sure that there's no pathogens in the eggs that we start producing our fish from. Also to our hatchery process where we keep the fish for about a year until they go to our seawater sites, they do routine testing for health items and health issues.

We vaccinate our fish against the most commonly found bacterial diseases right now, and there's a lot of work being undertaken right now to look at IHN with the idea of developing a vaccine for that as well. It's a virus disease that there's no current treatment for, and it's a commonly found disease as you know in the nature here in British Columbia. It hasn't, to my knowledge, ever been documented to affect wild salmon while they're in seawater, it's typically been looked at as a freshwater disease. Although, we have found that Atlantic salmon is particularly vulnerable to this particular bug and that's why shortly there will be a request for proposals on IHN research, which will be funded to the tune of $500,000 over the next year or so here in British Columbia.

We hope that before too long we'll have a result to that issue as well. But diseases come and go. This farm site we're on right now was the first one diagnosed with IHN about some eight years ago. We went through a cycle and now they have a group of healthy fish growing here as you can see. So these things go in cycles, and that's livestock farming for you.

How about the more serious diseases, that really haven't shown up on the west coast yet, like Infectious Salmon Anemia?

I think with the world shrinking, increased traffic from one end to the other, shipping and so on you always run the risk of seeing new diseases. I think there's new diseases discovered all the time. And I think it's very frustrating for us, knowing that the federal government has a National Aquatic Animal Health Plan sitting ready to be enacted in Ottawa that would look at routine monitoring of wild stocks all up and down the coast here so we know what disease reservoir is throughout there so we know what to be prepared for.

It would go along with the compensation program, whereas if a farm like this would be affected by IHN, for example, we can go and take those fish out of there and make sure we would be somewhat compensated like the land farmers with other diseases as we see around us today.

All these disease issues and sea lice - how are you approaching the science of it? You'll talk to me and you talk to Alexandra Morton, and that's the political issue that you're dealing with, but what about bringing the proper peer-reviewed science into it?

Geneticist David Suzuki feels that first, the industry says that the fish won't escape. Then the industry says if they do escape, they won't survive. Then when they found out they did survive, they say they'll never create a feral population. Given that history, he doesn't feel that anyone should be trusting what the industry says, that they've given a lot of claims that have proven to not be accurate He thinks we know very little about marine aquatic systems, that we're playing with fire by doing industrial scale aquaculture and putting at risk wild salmon that have had thousands of years to evolve. What's your take on that?

Well first of all, I don't know if the industry necessarily made those claims, but if you go back to the Salmon Aquaculture Review, the most intensive and extensive environmental assessment ever undertaken by an entire industry here in British Columbia, the issue of farming Atlantic salmon and escapes and so on was dealt weth in quite some detail and it was clearly identified there that to find some Atlantic salmon in freshwater systems or in the ocean for that matter as a result of escaped farm fish would not be unlikely.

You can even find some feral populations in some individual watersheds. But what the Salmon Aquaculture Review said was that should not be a large-scale event and it could also be dealt with in British Columbia, if it did start to happen. As you saw earlier today, we have had two years now of no evidence of spawning of escaped Atlantic salmon. Period. And if you go back in time, there's eight and a half million Atlantic salmon that were introduced here in British Columbia intentionally, with the idea of getting them established at times when there were low returns of wild fish.

Nowhere can be seen those “million fish escaped from farms in British Columbia and in the state of Washington”, and they are nowhere to be seen, although in commercial fishing periods you do pick up the odd one. There are a few, very few, found up in Alaska. I think the average escaped Atlantic picked up in Washington state for the last few years has been one fish for each year, so, they're not out there. Whoever made those statements that they wouldn't escape, they wouldn't survive, they wouldn't establish a feral population, there's some individual fish that have been found surely, but whoever made those statements can still stand by them. Atlantic salmon are not taking over the world in British Columbia, and I think they are the best salmon to farm here myself because they don't interact with wild populations of Pacific salmon in the spawning ground, they can't cross-breed.

They've shown a miserable ability to survive if and when they do escape and it's a product that's in world demand, and it's a wonderful product that has a list of health benefits as long as my arm and that's the salmon you should be farming in BC.

What are the trends with regard to escapement?

Better engineering, better knowledge of how to install farms, how to manage farms, bigger cages with stronger nets - the number of farmed salmon that have escaped in British Columbia have been coming down drastically for the last number of years. If you go back to the late eighties, for example, we've reduced escapes by ninety percent. We've still got a way to go because we want also to keep our fish in our cages. A fish that swims out of our net is money right out of our pockets so, that's something that we have in common with everybody, is to find ways of keeping our fish inside our pens. I think we're doing a much better job now than we used to be.

I think we're using end-closed commercial system and closed systems right now in our hatcheries, and also in the ocean in some places to produce smolts. When you have a small fish of high value, those systems can be viable, but for commercially growing food fish I think there's a long ways to go at this point. It's been tried in a lot of jurisdictions, sometimes with lots of government help and so far it hasn't worked, and I think they're also questionable from an environmental point of view.

How important is salmon aquaculture to rural communities in BC?

Aquaculture is very important to the employment situation here in BC. If you start in Campbell River and go up to the North end of the island you'll have 900 jobs in processing plants alone working year round, producing or processing farmed salmon. Farms like this typically employ about seven people so this is not where the employment numbers are per se, the numbers are in the support industries and services.

Some people have said that the DFO and certain elected officials in the provincial government, their ability to actually objectively regulate the industry is compromised by the fact that they're getting campaign contributions from the industry. What’s your take on that?

I think the political system here, as it is with the United States, campaign contributions are a way of life, and it's nothing different in our industry than any others.

What’s the Association's stance on genetically modified fish?

We don't use genetically modified fish in British Columbia and we don't plan to. As far as the potential benefits of genetically modified fish, we feel we have demonstrated that we can extract the growth potential from farmed fish by just using regular breeding programs, we don't need to go to a genetically modified way.

Are potential toxins in the feed for farmed fish being monitored by the industry?

We've been monitoring the ingredients in our feed since day one, we continue to do so. We've also been monitoring the health of our fish and we generally feel it's a wonderful product.

I have a eighteen-year old daughter that's been eating more farmed salmon per capita than anybody else in Canada I'm sure and I wouldn't give her farmed salmon if I didn't think it was a wonderful and healthy product and good for her.

Thank you. Would you like to add anything else?

Yes. The whole issue of First Nations is important to us. You know we've been reaching out to First Nations communities and try to build a relationship and we're happy to see that that's progressing and it's bearing fruit. We'd like to increase our involvement with First Nations. We need to have a good relationship with them to carry on our business here in coastal British Columbia. And our goal is to build proper and good relationships with our First Nations neighbors so we can work in harmony with them.