Reflection: Meeting with Communications Representative From Creative Salmon- Lisa Stewart
By Sophia Thompson-Campbell
Reflecting back on our meeting on May 21st, 2019 with communications rep. from Creative Salmon- Lisa Stewart:
This meeting was very engaging. We covered a range of issues regarding the aquaculture controversy in the region. We discussed: widespread concerns about media coverage and manipulation, societal polarization on the pros/cons of farmed fish vs. wild fish, what sustainable practice might look like, the organic certification, supply/demand/exportation, and the ethics and efficiency of Creative Salmon (C.S). Creative Salmon is an organic small scale fish farm located in Tofino producing chinook (pacific) farmed salmon. They mostly export to California and Japan- and greatly pride themselves for producing a ‘quality’ organic product. Throughout our conversations as a class about aquaculture, I noticed I was personally most interested in animal welfare concerns. This was brought up briefly in our meeting. Lisa referenced some malpractice early on in the industry and in their company- such as inefficient stunting and handling/ harvesting methods (they use the term ‘harvesting’ for killing). She mentioned their workers struggled a lot with handling the fish, and that it was a stressful process for the fish before they introduced the new stunting method- which she said was integrated into the boats. They also used to use a tool which kept bright lights on in the pens for the purpose of disorienting the fish and therefore ensuring they overeat. She implied that other fish farms still use that technique. Both practices have been replaced by more ethical practices at C.S, but it seems as though their progressive changes are for the purpose of maximizing product quality and quantity, and improving infrastructure.
Lisa mentioned that the disorienting lighting practice was eliminated because the first nations people on their board were against it for ethical/cultural reasons. From the information we received, it appeared that C.S has a relatively transparent and progressive co-governance board with Tla-o-qui-aht first nations representatives. I’d like to read more into this decision, the exact reasoning behind the shift, and the structure of the board meetings. I’m also wondering if other (non-organic) fish farms still use this tool. In terms of the stunting/killing shift, new technology was developed on their boats to improve efficiency and minimize stress for the fish. She emphasized that reducing stress in the ‘harvesting’ process is beneficial for fish meat quality- that is the main motivation for reducing stress. Although I was happy to hear that animal welfare has improved at this farm, it seems like the treatment of animals was-and is-not a main concern, but rather the quality of the product is. There are external reasons why improving animal welfare would help their company- such as: public image, requirement to abide by government regulations, gaining trust of public and/or first nations, reducing cost, maintaining organic regulation, etc.
This does not surprise me- but instead affirms my belief that the ‘live stock’ industry doesn’t value the well-being of animals or even truly consider it when developing and improving ‘harvesting’ processes; what matters to them is: 1) product quality 2) process efficiency and 3) public image. This angers me, but I also have challenged my immediate frustrated response: does intention actually matter? Progress is progress regardless of motivations. Even if companies are driven by product quality as opposed to an innate responsibility to treat animals humanely- positive change is still worth celebrating and advocating for. Some of my other questions include: can large scale fishing (or live stock ‘harvesting’) ever have ethical core principles? Can mass production ever truly respect the lives of animals?
This was a very biased meeting- which I assumed it would be as we were meeting with a communications representative! She did a great job because I left feeling supportive of C.S, and convinced that their product was the sustainable choice (although if salmon is seriously endangered than eating any salmon can’t actually be sustainable!). Once I understood what the organic label requires, and was informed of the practices Creative Salmon uses (eg. low density pens, no GMOs, no use of antibiotics, and minimal stress for the fish in handling processes)- I was relatively convinced that it was be a guilt-free choice for consumers.
Another argument that pushed me in the direction of supporting fish farms was the job creation portion- and of course, economic development for the region. The industry creates jobs in a region that suffers due to restricted seasonal work, and some organizations actively make an effort to hire local first nations people. From a few of our meetings with stakeholders, it was implied that employment insecurity is a problem in the region. If aquaculture is helping to reverse employment insecurity, whilst creating good quality salmon under organic regulations- with relatively ethical animal welfare practices, and maintaining healthy and transparent co- governance relationships with the first nations whose land they occupy- then maybe they are doing more good than harm. I ensured to remind myself after our meeting that this farm is only one small company out of a large industry. I don’t think my opinion on creative salmon is necessarily applicable when discussing aquaculture at large in Canada. With that being said, I think creative salmon can serve as a successful model upon which to develop new and useful frameworks and regulations for aquaculture at large.