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May 18, 2011
Mainstream Canada has applied for a new farm site at Plover Point, which is located in Clayoquot Sound south of our Fortune Channel farm.
We have prepared this Q&A to provide more information about the site for the public.
Where is the new farm site?
View this map to see where the site is in relation to Tofino, and some of our other farms in the Clayoquot Sound area.
Have First Nations been consulted?
Yes. The farm site is in Ahousaht First Nation territory. The Ahousaht people have a protocol agreement with Mainstream Canada, so they have been involved in discussions about the farm site from beginning to end. The Ahousaht First Nation supports our application.
How do First Nations benefit?
Plover Point was identified in our protocol agreement with the Ahousaht First Nation as a potential location for a new site. As well, the protocol agreement states that this will be a replacement for our Cormorant site on the west edge of Cypress Bay north of Meares Island. The Cormorant site will be made available to the Ahousaht First Nation to use for their own aquaculture activities.
Who is Mainstream Canada?
Mainstream Canada is one of the biggest salmon farming companies in B.C. We have 27 farm sites on the West and East Coasts of Vancouver Island, including 14 in the Clayoquot Sound area near Tofino. We employ approximately 250 people in coastal communities.
Why are we applying for a new farm site?
Another farm site in the Clayoquot Sound region will give us more flexibility in managing our production. Another site will allow us to increase fallow times at existing sites while maintaining current levels of production. It will not necessarily increase our production, although we would eventually like to do that because there is huge market demand for our product and not enough supply to meet it.
This site will allow us to maintain our production and provide opportunities for sustainable growth in order to provide economic benefits to Ahousaht and maintain a profitable business.
Why can't you increase production?
Our existing sites are currently producing as much salmon as they are permitted while still maintaining a minimal environmental impact. As well, due to the past moratorium on approving new farm sites by the government, we have not been allowed much flexibility in managing our production. With new applications we must follow very strict guidelines and procedures, which is a long and involved process.
What is the process to get a new site?
As part of the application process, we have done extensive environmental monitoring of the area. We have also done a habitat interaction report which is a study of all possible impacts and interactions the farm site could have in the area. Comments from local stakeholders will be reviewed by both provincial and federal government departments.
For more detailed information about the site application process, visit DFO's website for information about the federal government's role and visit the B.C. agriculture ministry's website for information about the provincial government's role. For a criteria checklist visit here.
What kind of environmental studies have you done?
We have done extensive monitoring of the ocean currents, using current monitors to measure tidal strengths and water flows. The results show the water flow makes this an excellent farm site.
As well, we have done a benthic baseline study of the seafloor below where the sea cages will float. Third-party contractors took hundreds of samples - nearly 100 kilograms worth - and performed hours of ROV (remote-operated vehicle) surveys to establish an accurate reading of the natural status of the seafloor, so we can accurately measure what impacts the farm will have on it.
Important habitat in the area, including kelp, eelgrass and shellfish beds, have been noted several hundred feet away from the site. The farm is not expected to have an impact on them.
How deep is the site?
Accurate bathymetry performed at the location shows the ocean floor beneath the proposed farm site varies from 230-330 feet in depth, and consists of mostly mud.
What kind of life is down there?
Sunlight fails to penetrate much deeper than 100 feet, so there is limited non-motile (stationary) life on this section of ocean floor. (Please note: The words "non-motile (stationary)" were added to this statement for clarification.)
What does it look now?
To establish a baseline and help us measure and minimize our impacts on the ocean floor, we hired a contractor to film the sea floor below our proposed farm site with an ROV (remote operated submersible). Footage of the area under the cage system footprint and of the area to the south where fish waste is most likely to settle is available on our Youtube page.
As part of establishing the baseline, two seperate surveys were done, a habitat inventory, and a baseline survey. During the habitat inventory, the ROV crossed the site many times in transects, to see what kind of life is on the sea floor. On several occasions, it found beggiatoa, which is unusual, but not out of the realm of possibility since beggiatoa grows in the natural environment.
Beggiatoa is a bacteria that grows on the ocean floor and flourishes in a sulfide-rich environment, such as underwater thermal vents. For that reason, it is often used as an indicator species when surveying the ocean floor around salmon farms, because it gives a visual picture of how many sulfides, particularly those from fish waste, are in the environment.
In these pictures, taken from the ROV's footage, it can be seen as a light, white dusting:
However, although the ROV found beggiatoa during the habitat inventory, it did not see it again during the baseline survey, which is what is used in the site application.
Will the farm impact wild salmon runs?
According to government regulations, new farms must be sited at least one kilometre away from any fish-bearing streams in the area. All the nearby fish bearing streams have been studied as part of the application so we have a good idea of what kinds of wild fish are in the area. We are confident that our proposed farm poses no threat to wild fish in the area. Wild salmon sea lice monitoring programs already covers this area. As well, Mainstream Canada has extensive sea lice monitoring programs for its farms. This site will be included in those programs.
What other wildlife has been considered?
All known wildlife and their habitat in the area, from herring to sea lions to shellfish to marbled murrelets to kelp and eelgrass beds, have been considered in the site application. The farm will not have an impact on them.
How will you keep sea lions and seals out?
We will use predator nets to discourage sea lions and seals from trying to enter the salmon pens. We are also considering some alternatives, such as a different mesh size in the nets, to keep them out.
How big is the farm?
The management plan for the farm is to grow approximately 3,000 tonnes of fish. They would be harvested every two years. That would mean roughly 600,000 smolts entered into the site. Current construction plans call for 12 sea cages to hold the fish (please note: earlier versions of this Q&A had an erroneous number). The farm would take up a surface area of 1.25 hectares. For a comparison, if all our farm sites in the Clayoquot Sound region were the same size as this farm (some are smaller) they would all take up a surface area smaller than the main runways at the Tofino airport.
Will this farm create new jobs?
Yes. Five or six people are needed to manage one farm - farm workers and site managers - and approximately six people will be employed full-time installing the site. As well, approximately 87 jobs will be positively impacted, as the site will produce more fish to be processed at our PNP processing plant in Tofino, and will also mean more work for the divers and contractors who regularly service our farm sites. It is our policy to try and recruit new employees who live in the area, so we will hopefully be able to create new jobs in the Ahousaht-Tofino-Ucluelet region.
When do you hope to start using the site?
We hope to have the first group of smolts entered into the site by the spring of 2012.
Why not closed-containment?
Currently closed-containment technology does not represent a viable alternative, especially related to energy usage and fish health. We believe that present technology for open net pens allows for sustainable aquaculture, and we aim at demonstrating this in our operations through management of environmental impacts.
We are also not convinced that closed-containment salmon farming is socially sustainable. Large-scale closed-containment farms big enough to grow 3,000 tonnes of fish - the equivalent capacity of one of our farms - would have to be built closer to processing plants and markets to compensate for the increased costs of farming on land, and would also require a large and steady supply of electricity and fresh water. Coastal communities, such as the Ahousaht territory in which we operate, are ideal for ocean net pen farms, but not for large-scale land-based farms. Shifting to land-based closed-containment farms away from Ahousaht territory would have negative social impacts on the Ahousaht people. It would result in a loss of employment and wages they rely on to feed their families.
However, we are following the development of closed-containment aquaculture, and will consider testing of new concepts and explore the possibilities of closed-containment fish farming.
We are already very familiar with the technology proposed for land-based closed containment aquaculture systems. We use recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) technology in our land-based hatcheries, which grow our fish from egg to smolt size for the first year of their lives. We know what the technology can and cannot do at this point in time, and although we will continue to explore the possibility of closed-containment farming, we believe the present technology for open net pens is the most sustainable way to farm salmon.
For reference, take a look at the following studies.
Land-based aquaculture is not currently economically sustainable.
DFO recently published a study which examined the economic feasibility of several different closed containment technologies. It concluded that the only system which could grow salmon to market size on a large scale, and generate profit, was the RAS system we use in our hatcheries. However, such systems would be prohibitively expensive and only create a four per cent return on equity and two per cent return on investment after three years.
Environmental impacts of land-based aquaculture
For a study on how land-based aquaculture could affect the environment, please take a look at "Assessing alternative aquaculture technologies: life cycle assessment of salmonid culture systems in Canada" which concludes that "while the use of these closed-containment systems may reduce the local ecological impacts typically associated with net-pen salmon farming, the increase in material and energy demands associated with their use may result in significantly increased contributions to several environmental impacts of global concern, including global warming, non-renewable resource depletion, and acidification."
How can I comment or learn more?
The provincial Integrated Land Management Bureau will be taking comments online until June 18. Please click here to leave a comment electronically.
As well, we will be hosting two open houses, one in Tofino and one in Port Alberni, to give stakeholders a chance to learn more about the site application and to ask questions. The dates, times and locations are as follows:
When: June 14, 2011 4-8 p.m.
Where: Weigh West Harbour Lounge
634 Campbell Street
When: June 16, 2011 4-8 p.m.
Where: Port Alberni Friendship Center
3555 4th Ave
Last updated June 17, 2011
For more information, or if you have further questions, please contact
Grant Warkentin, Communications Officer