TRANSCRIPT - Bill Vernon
Vernon is the General Manager of Creative Salmon at Baxter
Island Farm in British Columbia.
What do you do to reduce the possibilities of fish being stressed
due to densities?
One of the things
that we've always tried to do here at Creative Salmon is to let
the fish guide us on how we should treat them. We've learned over
time that densities certainly play a role in the health of the fish.
So we've tried to maintain our densities at a level where the fish
live and our survivals are high.
At some farms, the density is so many kilograms per cubic meter.
What is it here?
We have grown
at higher densities years ago, but now we try to limit the density
to eight kilograms per cubic meter and that would only be reached
at the time of harvest, so the densities grow as the fish grow.
I know that other people grow at higher densities than that, but
we've tried to keep it low. Our density in percentage terms is actually
less than one percent of the total volume of the net pen.
What ramifications does the density factor have in terms of needing
There is certainly
a level of stress in competing for feed or competing for space.
What we've learned is that the more pressure we put on the fish,
by way of increasing density, the more stress they feel. So, what
we've tried to do is limit those densities. We use, as a guide,
the health of the fish. So if we see our survivals are dropping
below 90%, there are some issues that may relate to density or some
other event. Our densities, or our survivals, tend to be at around
90%. Eighty-five percent would not be the best survival that we
If they have less stress, they have less need for antibiotics?
started out using antibiotics in a way that probably wasn't necessary.
But, all of us found ways to use antibiotics in terms of thinking
that we'd be able to improve survivals. We've taken another approach
and tried to breed our fish out of other fish that have never had
antibiotics and tried to maintain densities at a level that will
keep the fish healthy. So we don't have to use antibiotics. This
year has been a very successful year for us.
It looks like you've bypassed the need to use the copper nets.
Our goal is
to be able to produce for the consumer an organic type of product.
One of the issues in organics is obviously the use of chemicals,
and copper is something that is known to be, in high concentrations,
toxic. So we've had to go to another way of managing our nets, and
part of it is to change our nets more regularly to reduce the amount
of growth on the nets. The other way is when we dry the nets out.
We've come up with an innovative way of using large inner tubes
to raise the bottom of the net up high enough so that it can dry
and let the sun supply its UV to help sterilize the nets.
It seems like you're trying to minimize any possibility of a problem,
in terms of where you've sited it, and in dealing with predators.
Our whole approach
here has been about trying to learn in an adaptive way. We started
a program years ago called our Corporate Environmental Program.
It includes several ways of monitoring around the farms on the bottom
to try and find out exactly what we are doing. In order for us to
be able to change, we need to know what we're doing. We started
that program in 1996, long before it became something that the government
wanted us to do. Now, we're compelled with new government regulation
to do it and we're looking for other ways to improve even more.
As far as predators
are concerned, they come and go. The biggest predator, the biggest
problem is sea lions. We know when they come, they come with the
herring, they arrive here in about February, so we put on big heavy
predator nets in January and leave them on until April when the
sea lions leave and go back to their home range. Then, we remove
the predator nets and clean them and get ready for the next season.
It sounds like you are making efforts to not only monitor the presence
of contaminants in the fishmeal, but also monitor where the fisheries
are actually targeting these small fish.
Part of what
people expect, our consumers expect, is that they're going to get
a good quality fish. Because our fish are fed feed that comes from
fishmeal, we have to be sure that the fishmeal itself doesn't contain
anything that is deemed to be harmful, or potentially harmful, to
humans. We have a program where we're testing the fishmeal in order
to be able to assure ourselves that the feed we're making out of
the fishmeal is safe and wholesome. We'll also be doing random checks
on our feed as just another level of checking to be able to assure
our customers that they're getting a good, safe, and wholesome product.
Where does your fishmeal come from?
It comes from
South America from the anchovy and jack mackerel fishery and is
part of a very large fishery that's been going on in South America
for probably 50 to 75 years. I think now, the fishmeal that we're
using and the oil in the past used to be used in diesel trucks.
So we're seeing a higher and better use of both the oil and the
It seems to me that a lot of what your doing has to do with your
personal philosophy as an approach to business. Why is Creative
Salmon taking these measures?
For some people
in business, I might be considered a radical, or a bit of a cowboy.
I don't necessarily believe that all the textbooks on business apply
to what we're doing. A lot of the textbooks on business apply to
an older paradigm. We're in a more modern time and we have to think
more modern, and as business people we have to hear what people
are saying and take steps to change things. The alternative is to
have regulations and policies from government that usually go over
the top and often don't solve any of the problems. They simply are
a political solution to an environmental problem or something else.
In Creative Salmon, we take a different approach to solving problems,
in dealing with our own employees or with the local community. We
think that they are stakeholders in this company, shareholders in
this company, and have a right to know what we're doing and if we
are embracing their points of view or their culture.
You acknowledge that there are risks, and so forth, and ultimately
there's probably no way around that, in fact, there are risks in
a lot of things. But what it comes down to is managing those risks.
That's what you're doing a lot here.
we are doing poses certain levels of risk. Any activity that man
gets involved in has risks. What we're involved in has risks. It's
up to us to be vigilant. It's up to us to be responsible and try
and learn from the mistakes that we do make and try to improve things.
Hopefully, the mistakes that we're making are small mistakes and
don't have big consequences to ourselves or to the environment.
From Creative Salmon's point of view, we've always tried to incrementally
improve what we're doing. The improvement isn't just about the company
improving. The company has a lot of employees, suppliers, and contractors,
and it's up to them to understand that the way we behave or the
strength of the company is only as good as the weakest link. So
everybody has to embrace this point. Hopefully all of us will improve
Other comments or concerns?
I'd like to
talk a bit about our relationship with the First Nations, as it's
one of the things that is one of the telling moments in Creative
Salmon. Several years ago I was talking with our local First Nation
here, whose traditional territory we are in. It became very clear
to me that I didn't really understand their culture. Rather than
me trying to learn the culture myself, why don't I hire someone
that is going to be, my liaison, or my cultural advisor? So we hired
a liaison person, and we're the first people in the industry to
actually hire a liaison.
now, do have their own liaisons with the local First Nations, the
traditional territory that they're in. For me, it's been a real
learning process, but it's been a very positive experience for me.
If our neighbors have a problem with something we're doing, they
come and talk to us. If we have something we want to do, we will
go to them first. They're our neighbors, if we're going to build
a fence or something like that, we don't go to the government first,
we go to our neighbor and let them know what we're thinking.
I've heard that aquaculture is trying to do in 30 years what agriculture
took 6000 years to do. The learning curve's been steep, but there
have been a lot of changes even in the last few years.
When you look
at aquaculture, it started here in this province only 20 years ago.
When I look at the type of equipment we're using, whether it's net
pens, the anchor lines, or anything, the difference is like three
lifetimes. It's a very positive thing. I think for us it certainly
helps me to sleep at night to know that I now have anchoring systems
that are three or four times what they used to be. So it has been
a very positive change. As far as us changing in thirty years as
opposed to what took 6000 years, the public now has a much different
expectation out of us as business people and as people producing
food. We're compelled to move much quicker than what the agriculture
industry had to.
Looking at the innovations that you're developing right here as
a small company, day-to-day, do you think that the whole industry
will go in a better direction?
By and large,
whether they're a big company or a small company, whether they're
a multinational or not, everybody is hearing very clearly that the
public has high expectations out of how we behave in what is a publicly
owned resource. Some companies are moving quicker than others. But
if you don't move in that direction, you're simply not going to
exist in the next few years. My sense is that everybody is moving
in that direction.
In terms of public expectations, to what degree is your product
getting a premium by people that are, potentially, a growing segment
of those who appreciate this kind of seafood?
Most of our
business, now, is moving more towards people that are prepared to
pay a bit more for the feeling that we're not only producing a healthy
and nutritious product, but that the way we behave in and around
the environment is what they expect. About half of our production,
now, is going for what I would say is a premium price. We certainly
look forward to getting a premium price for the rest of it, but
it will take time. This has been a slow process, and we're certainly
not 100% there yet.
What are you going to do when you retire? Any kind of a legacy you
hope to leave?
I hope in a
small way that we've been a bit of an example about how things can
be done differently and yet successfully. It doesn't necessarily
mean that you have to follow the textbook exactly. There are ways
that you can do things differently and yet achieve success. Success
isn't just measured in bottom line alone.