Salmon fish farming in BC: Threat to Wild Salmon

Categories: Endangered Species



Salmon farms are located in many parts of Canada including British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. Canada is the fourth largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. British Columbia salmon production is 60% of total Canadian production. This aquaculture Practice comes with its own benefits for the economy and its drawbacks. There are many concerns expressed about the danger these fish farms are imposing on the wild salmon stocks and the aboriginal way of living.

Salmon farming is constantly growing in BC nearly supporting 7000 families on BC Coast and contributes to $1.5 billion to the economy of BC. BC salmon farms association is a large family of salmon farmers and other people who are directly or indirectly employed because of salmon farming practice in BC.


Salmon fish farms are constantly growing on BC coasts. But this constant growth has brought with it various threats to wild salmon in BC. Wild salmon is a major source of food for the first nations and plays a very important role in their culture and their spiritual beliefs.

During the past few decades the threats on these wild salmons are increasing.

Salmon farming impacts on wild salmon (habitat degradation)

The health of pacific wild salmon depends on their abundance and biological diversity. With the growth of salmon farms across the BC the habitat of wild salmon is depleting. When the wild salmon passes through these fresh water farms they catch the diseases. There are various pathogens in these fish farms that attack the wild salmon.

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Every fish farm in BC poses threats to loss of this biodiversity. In the past few years the return wild salmon has been declined in the BC coast. The salmon fish farms have affected the migration route of the Fraser sockeye salmon. This decline in the number of wild salmon has created tension among various Stakeholders like fishing organizations, first nations and recreational fisherman.

Interbreeding is also a major threat to the wild salmon. Open-net pens that are commonly used in Canada are designed in a way that farm fish do not escape in the ocean but escape from these fish farms is a reality. This escape of farmed salmon creates a competition for habitat and survival between farmed salmon and wild salmon.

Pollution caused by salmon farms

Salmon farms are located right inside the ocean water so they discharge all the pollution right inside the ocean waters. These salmon farms release various chemicals in the fresh water that leads to water pollution. Various effluents are released from fish processing farms directly in the water. Salmon farms use various pesticides to kill sea lice. Open net farms use the steel cages that have nylon nets. With time certain substances grow on that reduces the use time of these cages and to reduce the growing of such substances a copper contains antifouling paint is used, this paint contain harmful chemicals that is released in the water bodies and is toxic for other surrounding ecosystem in water. Not only chemical pollution but fish farms also cause organic pollution as they discharge various waste in surrounding marine environment. In areas like BC coast where high-density fish farming is done leads to eutrophication, that is a treat to ecosystem balance in marine environment. Many times the medicated feed is given to these farmed fished and the feed that is not consumed by them is released in surrounding water bodies thus even by wild species.

Effects on ecosystem

Salmon farms impose a great threat to the ecosystem. They are threat to the already endangered species of the wild salmon. Most of the fish farms are overcrowded, thus the farmed salmon often lead to various contaminations. The pollution of nearby water bodies is a major threat from these fish farms. These fish farms release excessive carbon in water bodies, thus increasing the temperature of water bodies and creating dead zones. This increased temperature of the water bodies is a threat to the entire water ecosystem like plants, fishes and other living creatures in the water.

Rights of first nations

Wild salmon is staple diet and add to distinctive culture of first nations in Canada. When we talk about the stakeholders of salmon farming, first nations are mostly affected by this practice. First nations have constitutional fishery rights. With growing number of salmon farms on BC coast, the wild salmon species is endangered. A BC first nation sued the federal government for permitting salmon farming in Dzawada’enuxw first nations area. They said the fish farms are an infringement on their aboriginal rights to harvest wild salmon. These fish farms are direct attack on their culture and their constitutional rights. Majority of first nations do not support fish farms in their traditional territories.

Coping up with the issues

Salmon farming is an important part of BC’s economy and supports a lot of families. Shutting down of these salmon farms is not a solution to any problem. Government and the salmon farmers need to work together and find a way to make sustainable use of natural resources to carry forward the salmon farming.

Co-existing with wild salmon

Protecting the endangered species of wild salmon is the important component of sustainable salmon farming. If proper measures are taken in the salmon farms the farmed salmon and wild salmon can co-exist in the ocean waters. There are various codes and industry activities to ensure that the growing salmon farming will not negatively affect the wild salmon. Some of these activities are: The National Code on the Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms. To make sure that only healthy smolts (baby salmon) are entered in the ocean an on-going stringent testing is done before releasing the smolts in the nets located inside the oceans. Smolts are vaccinated to protect them from the common pathogens. This helps to reduce the risk of pathogens attacking wild salmons also. Continued investment in research through the Marine Environmental Research Program. Continued support of Salmon Enhancement programs. Strong commitment to containment – keeping farmed salmon in the net pen. These are the few commitments of the salmon farmers towards the protection of wild salmon.

Zero escapes

The escape of farmed salmons from the fish farms is the major threat to the wild salmon. The BC farming industry is working to achieve the target of zero escapes. The use of nets made from synthetic polymer has lead to decrease in the escape from fish farms. There is research going on to make the nets and ropes more strong to reach the goal of zero escapes from salmon farms.

Conservation of wild salmon –  a check on salmon farms

The salmon fish farms are causing various types of water pollution and other threats but the threat they are imposing on the numbers of wild salmon are most alarming. Many legal, political parties and NGO came forward to raise their concern of the fatal affects of salmon fish farms on wild salmon. Various policies and legal notices are given in past decade to control the harm caused by the growing number of fish farms in B.C. and all over Canada. Many rules and regulations are made for the rights of the first nations, as wild salmon is a part of their culture. Following are the few government policies and legislature decisions to check the growing impact of salmon farms on wild salmon.

The Wild Salmon Policy

Wild Salmon has been added to the list of endangered species. According to COSEWIC, three groups- Interior Fraser River Coho, Cultus Lake sockeye in the Lower Fraser, and Sakinaw Lake sockeye in the Strait of Georgia are marked as endangered. To protect the wild salmon a new policy approach was made. This wild policy takes the consultations from First Nations, general public and discussion papers released in 2000, 2004 and 2005. The main focus of the policy is to conserve the wild salmon and to preserve their habitat in B.C. and Yukon. This policy explains how DFO (department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada) will work to conserve wild pacific salmon. The success of this policy will provide following benefits to the nation: Surplus supply of wild salmon to the future generations, To operate the fish farms in sustainable way by meeting the needs of the first nations and by thinking about present and future of Canadian environment, and Preservation of salmon habitats and conserved species of salmon. The Wild Salmon Policy has a set of goals and guiding principles. The goal is to restore the population of salmon and to preserve the habitat of the salmon. All the decisions are made to honour Canada’s obligations to First Nations. All the decisions about salmon protection will be taken after consulting the general public and the decision-making will be transparent. The major objectives of this policy are to preserve the rich species of wild salmon by maintaining their habitat and to avoid the degradation of the ecosystem. Another major objective is that all the fish farm should find a sustainable way of its operations.

To meet all the goals and objectives, this policy guides six strategies to be followed and these strategies are:

  1. Standardized monitoring of wild salmon status
  2. Assessment of habitat status Inclusion of ecosystem values and monitoring
  3. Integrated strategic planning
  4. Annual program delivery
  5. Performance review.

The major step is implementation of this policy. The six strategies are the activities that must work together to meet the goals and objectives of this policy. All these six strategies will work simultaneously to make this policy successful. This policy is not an overnight process; it will take time to implement and to show successful results. There will be a certain set of benchmarks set that needs to be checked over time. Overall this policy will work to protect the habitat of wild salmon, so that the wild salmon starts migrating back to the coasts of B.C., thus protecting the rich culture of first nations and the ecosystem. Following is the overall figure representation of The Wild Salmon Policy.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) As studied earlier the indigenous people of Canada have a long history of fishing. Fishing of wild salmon is a part of their culture. They are the once who are emotionally and culturally affected by the change in the migration of the wild salmon to the BC coast. They are the major stakeholders that are negatively impacted by the acts of the salmon farmers. Several first nation communities filed lawsuits against the federal and provincial government over fish farms. The United Nations came forward to protect the rights of indigenous people of many countries with UNDRIP on 13 September 2007. At the beginning Canada votes against this declaration but now support this declaration. This declaration outlines the importance of durable relationship with indigenous people. This declaration now governs this issue in Canada between fish faming industry and first nations rights. BC salmon farmers agree to build a relationship with the first nations. They formed a cooperative partnership with the first nations to ensure protection of the environment and wild salmon and to provide social and economic benefits to the first nations. Few significant points of this partnership are:

  1. 78% of all salmon farmed in the province is under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.
  2. People of First Nations’ heritage hold about 20% of salmon farming jobs.
  3. Every new farm proposed in the last decade has been in partnership with First Nations.
  4. Rules set by British Columbia government.

After the negative effect seen on the migration route on the wild salmon in B.C. coastal water, B.C. government makes the new fish farm rules. On June 20, 2018, agriculture minister Lana Popham made announcement that with effective from 2022, the provincial government will only give grant tenure to the farm operators who meets the following two conditions: The owners of open-net pens must prove to DFO that their operations will not have negative impact on wild salmon. Must get permission from First Nation’s in whose territory they are to operate their fish farms. 

So, in coming years if the fish farms want to operate they will need first nations to support them. These new rules came with different reviews from different stakeholders. Likewise, a spokesman from BC salmon farmers association said that these farms employs more than 7000 people and contributes around 1.5$ billion a year to BC’s economy and fish farms owner must be consulted prior to any decision making.

Future of  salmon farming in B.C.

Salmon farming in B.C. is playing a great role in the economical rise of the province. It provides employment to more than 7000 people, thus supporting so many families. People on coastal BC are depended on these farms for their livings. So, no one is advocating total shutdown of these farms. The one thing that needs to be kept in mind while operating these farms is sustainability. The open net pen farms should be replaced by completely closed land based fish farms. Open net farms posses more threat to the wild salmon, as they are located in the same seawater. The only barrier between wild salmon and farmed salmon is the net cage. Parasites and viruses can easily pass these net cages and can attack wild salmon. So, the solution to this problem is land based fish farms. Like many other industries that changed their technologies to more sustainable way of operating these fish farms also needs to evolve with time. They should follow more clean, green and sustainable aquaculture. On-land salmon farms are sustainable in many ways, as there is no fair of escaping of farmed salmon in ocean water, no direct release of pollution into water bodies and reduced risk any disease transmission from farmed salmon to wild salmon. A land based salmon fish farm under name Kuterra is owned by Namgis First Nation.

This fish farm is a model of sustainable aquaculture as they use parasites to recycle their water, converting waste to fertilizer, relying on plant based feed and avoid the use of chemical pesticides. So, this fish farm is an example that farms can operate on land rather than operating in coastal water and interrupting the migration route of wild salmon.

A major agreement between government and first nations was signed to protect the wild salmon stocks in Broughton Archipelago area. This also agreement came with various measures, one of which is closing of 10 farms by the end of 2022. This decision was made to free the wild salmon migration routes and to avoid their contact with fisheries as they migrate. All the other farms that are operating have to abide by the rules and have to make sure that their operations is not a threat to wild salmon. The main concern of this agreement was to find a balance between first nations and fish farm operators. The future of these fish farms is towards the sustainable way of operations. The fish farms have to look forward to co-exist with the wild salmon and they have to operate in a way that they do not come in the path of wild salmon migrations.


It is clear that the old techniques of operating salmon fish farms is a threat to wild salmon species, ecosystem and is causing water pollution. The government is working to solve this issue and is looking forward to use more sustainable ways of fish farming. As the habitat degradation of wild salmon is growing in past decade, it is now clear that sustainability and ecological balance is a priority. Economical benefits of salmon fish farms cannot override its negative impacts. There needs to be a way for fish farms to co-exist with the wild salmon and these fish farms should posses zero threat to the habitat of the wild salmon. As the research showed there are lot of plans to have a sustainable fisheries but none of the plans have shown full success yet. There is a long way to go to preserve the rich culture of Canada. There is a need of continues check, inventions and investment to move the Canadian aquaculture industry towards the sustainable industry. Just like many other industries, this aquaculture industry also needs to evolve with time and needs of the environment. By keeping in view all the economical benefits of fish farms and the negative impacts they are causing, following are the few recommendations:

  1. All the open-net farms should be converted into land-based farms.
  2. The farms that are in the path of the wild salmon migration route should be closed immediately.
  3. Checking and vaccination of smolt before releasing it into the water.
  4. Use of sustainable feed for the fishes, and increased investment into sustainable aquaculture parasite.
  5. Zero use of chemicals and pesticides that lead to increased temperature of water temperature and causes water pollution.
  6. Total closure of fish farms that are immediate danger to habitat of wild salmon and that come in the migration path of the wild salmon.
  7. Any new fish farmer before introducing any new operation should consult with first nations representatives.

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Salmon fish farming in BC: Threat to Wild Salmon. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from

Salmon fish farming in BC: Threat to Wild Salmon
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