AQUACULTURE: What’s really happening?

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I have been following the articles and posts on aquaculture and, frankly, both sides seem populated by the equivalent of zealots. “It’s bad” … “It’s good”, “Shut it down” … “It’ll save the world”. On and on it goes while our world is facing major population and environmental issues. Perhaps it is now time to find a way to restructure this industry so that it will be a benefit to our coastal communities. Or we can continue to polarize this issue and make little or no progress.

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Surely there are middle-of-the-road folks who understand that aquaculture is not bad in and of itself. In fact some historians believe it first started in Asia between 2000 BC and 1000 BC so it has been around for a long time. Shellfish have been cultured along our coasts for many years and it is only since 1979 that major aquaculture development has taken place here and while it is true that some of these development have been disastrous environmentally and otherwise, this has not been universally true.

The trouble is it is difficult to find good science and regulations that will allow sensible development and maintenance leading to sustainable, “environmentally-friendly” sites that will benefit coastal families and not harm the environment. Those plans have been around since 1980 and totally ignored by government and industry with the exception of a few notable fish farmers who have followed sensible guidelines of their own making and practices that worked as was hoped way back at the beginning. Others? Well some have been threatened, attacked, and taken to court. In general, local development has been sold out in favour of international corporatism and truly insane decisions, such as the introduction of Atlantic salmon to the Pacific, the importation of frozen European sprats with live foreign sea lice, among others.

As our resource wealth bleeds off to external corporations and governments, changes in aquaculture practices will be necessary in the coming years as citizens demand that the benefits of this industry fall into local communities and that practices change in such away that the traditional fisheries can be rebuilt and maintained within sensible environmental and economic limits.

To begin the process of rebuilding our coastal communities it is vital to understand the size of the aquaculture industry. The following graphs show the species and extent of the industry across Canada and in each of our provinces. Some simple math will show you what this is worth out in the marketplace. Unfortunately, as is the case with our mines, gas, oil, agriculture and forests, most of the real wealth leaves our coastal communities and ends up in a few pockets and on distant shores. Perhaps it is time to rethink how we manage this wealth as well when we examine our other natural resources?

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