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In support of responsible fish farming

October 17, 2019


My name is Ned Bell, and I support responsible fish farming.


As a father, a chef, an advocate and an educator who has done his research I have come to support Canada’s fish farmers. I also support fishermen and women and responsible wild capture fisheries. I support the coastal and rural communities that rely on these marine industries and provide us this important food. Most of all I support Mother Nature. 


Publicly supporting salmon farming can be controversial. But, with broad knowledge gained from studying all sides of the issue, I am sure in my decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with Canadian fishermen and fish farmers, showing support every step of the way. 


Years ago, I wasn’t sure about aquaculture, so I set out to educate myself. My clear understanding comes from dozens of visits to ocean and land-based fish farms around the world that are growing the species we eat by the millions every year in our collective homes and restaurants.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours on salmon, shrimp, sablefish, sturgeon, trout, arctic char, halibut and tilapia farms. I’ve toured their hatcheries and feed facilities, and met with the farmers, scientists, academic experts, government officials and nonprofit organizations involved. I have listened intently and asked many questions.


Through that research, I have come to trust the ocean farmers in Canada. Behind the farmers I trust the regulations and the provincial and federal Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as the public service in these ministries. And I believe that through collaboration, public accountability and continued investments in technology and science, we will continue to improve as stewards of our ecosystems and communities. We want to grow high quality, healthy protein without harming Mother Nature, and we are capable of doing just that. In many places we already are. 


Issues will always come up when farming animals. I have found Canada’s aquaculture industry to be forthright, forward-thinking and willing to relentlessly solve issues. 


I have also become convinced that the only way we will sustainably enjoy eating healthy fish into the future is through both farming and wild fisheries, done responsibly. 


Overfishing, climate change, drastic habitat degradation, urban pollution and over-exploited resources are harming healthy and resilient marine ecosystems, putting huge pressure on wild fish populations here and around the world. Wild fisheries need public support, effective regulation, transparency and consistent management. Wild fisheries also need refuge from their biggest threat: rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  Lastly wild fisheries need consumers willing to pay a fair price for a variety of different locally caught fish. 


Fish farming can help with that, by providing responsibly-raised fish we can eat along with selectively-caught local wild seafood, thus reducing pressure from over-fishing.


Last year, half of globally consumed seafood came from aquaculture. In 10 years that number will climb to upwards of 65 per cent. In Canada we grow a lot of fish and seafood in farms, in water and on land. It is imperative that all stakeholders work together to succeed. Fish farmers and fishermen must thrive equally to ensure the future of their families, their coastal communities, and the future of fish and seafood.


Unfortunately, here on the west coast boom and bust wild salmon returns, historic conflicts and campaigns of misinformation have led many to increasing polarization and standoffs rather than dialogue to learn the full and current picture, including its bright spots.It’s just not that simple. In an era of intertwined crises in climate, food production, population growth, and human and planetary health the conversation about aquaculture and wild fisheries isn’t black and white. It’s extremely nuanced. We need to get beyond the “us-verses-them” situation and understand we share the same communities and, really, all of us are parts of the problem and therefore potential problem-solvers. 


To have a useful opinion and make good choices, one must strive to be as informed as possible. There are organizations out there to help with that. As a chef I rely on a number of what I call Ocean Guardians to help inform my choices around responsible fish and seafood.


Ocean Guardians 


Let me be the first to admit that when it comes to seafood, keeping track of what’s sustainable can be a challenge. With fish, you need to factor in the species, where it was caught, and how it was raised and harvested- harvesting methods vary in their impact on the environment and targeted species. And the status of any fish or shellfish may change from one year to the next, as its population rises and falls and as fisheries modify their management strategies and harvesting techniques. Thanks fully, there are NGOs out there doing great work to keep track of what’s what’s and presenting it to us consumers in simple and up to date forms via their apps websites. They don’t agree on everything but the debate is healthy, and I try to walk a middle ground. You can download your favourite app onto your smart phone and have information on your fingers tips as your shop or dine out, and you won’t have to worry about whether a fish or seafood is ok to eat. 


Seafood Watch:

Monterey Bay Aquarium in California launched their game changing sustainable seafood program, Seafood Watch in 1999. Their guides and app indicate which seafood items are ‘Best Choice’ or ‘Good Alternative’ and which to avoid. 


Ocean Wise:

The Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program was devised to make dining out easier and encourage chefs to our more sustainable choices on their menus. Participating restaurants and fishmongers put the Ocean Wise symbol beside approves fish and shellfish items. The Ocean Wise app is useful for grocery shopping across Canada with many local and national retail partners: it presents the basic facts around sustainability species by species. 


Marine Stewardship Council: (MSC) 

A global nonprofit organization, MSC makes it easy to choose seafood that is certified sustainable, traceable and Wild. It works together with fisheries and companies to effect change, address seafood fraud, and protect our last major source that is wild. Look for the blue MSC label on seafood at grocery stores, fishmongers and restaurants. 


Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is an independent non-profit and labelling organization that establishes protocol on farmed seafood ensuring sustainable aquaculture. The ASC provides sustainable and responsible aquaculture producers with a stringent certification and labelling scheme guaranteeing to consumers that the seafood they are purchasing is sustainable for the environment, and socially responsible. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council was founded in 2010 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). The ASC's Vision is "a world where aquaculture plays a major role in supplying food and social benefits for mankind whilst minimizing negative impacts on the environment". Their mission is to "transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the chain." 


Ocean Wise does not currently recommend open net pen farmed Atlantic salmon produced in Canada from either the Pacific or Atlantic coasts.Seafood Watch does recommend Atlantic Salmon Farmed in British Columbia as a ‘Good Alternative’ but does not recommend Atlantic Salmon Farmed on the East Coast of Canada.

There are always challenges raising animals for consumption, but I know the large majority of our Canadian fish farmers are doing everything they can to find solutions to their specific unique set of challenges.  Thanks to heavy investment of time, research and resources, fish farming has evolved and come long way in the last decade. Aquaculture in Canada is an extremely progressive, science-based, technology-focused industry.  Aquaculture professionals are environmental stewards because they are extremely conscious farmers committed to ensuring that wild stocks are not harmed. 


We need to eat more nutrient dense plant-based foods, with clean healthy protein as the garnish. Fish is ideal for that, as long as it is sustainably caught or raised, and as local as possible. 


Wild fish and aquaculture are among humanity’s best opportunities to serve the world’s growing population a highly nutritious food with a low ecological impact. 


Eating more seafood makes sense because increased seafood consumption equals better health. 


Wild fish must not be pushed to the brink of extinction in Canada – or globally – in this century. I believe in Mother Nature, I believe we can regenerate, but it is simply not our right to take it all. Responsible Canadian fish farming is part of the solution. 

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