Leaders of Vancouver Island’s aquaculture industry spoke about the potential of B.C.’s “blue economy” and the future of sustainable uses of ocean resources and maritime assets at the State of the Island Economic Summit.
On Wednesday, Oct. 25, at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre, a panel of experts from ocean-related industries discussed B.C.’s ocean economy, which is expected to be a $3-trillion industry worldwide by 2030, according to the U.K. government.
The panel spoke about two specific marine industries on the Island: salmon farming, which is B.C.’s biggest agricultural export, and seaweed harvesting, an up-and-coming industry that is expected to leverage current assets of other marine sectors to produce revenue during down seasons.
Brian Kingzett, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said the salmon farming industry is “probably the most misunderstood, misrepresented and political in the ocean sector right now,” after 15 farms weren’t allowed to renew their licences.
Despite the fallbacks, he said he continues to advocate for the industry and collaborate with multiple companies and organizations to make the industry more sustainable. He also praised ongoing innovation in the sector, mentioning new hybrid-powered vessels and an upcoming AI-powered camera that can identify individual fish by the spots on their side and can detect health issues and parasites on the farmed fish to further protect wild fish.
Kingzett spoke about the importance of collaborating with other organizations and governments to further expand the industry, especially with Scandinavian countries like Norway, which he said has more than 1,000 salmon farms and is one of the leaders in new technological advancements in the industry.
In addition to working with foreign entities, he stressed the importance of working with Indigenous groups on the Island. He mentioned visiting Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation in the 1980s before salmon farming completely turned around the unemployment rate, and said one in two households are now involved in the sector.
“There’s a knowledge that Indigenous communities bring, just from being on the ocean and around the ocean in this sector, and that’s an important thing to consider in any phase in these development paths we take,” said Jason Goldsworthy, executive director of the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies.
Mark Smith, CEO of the Pacific Seaweed Association, talked about how his sector “plays well” with fish farmers and shellfish harvesters as an “ancillary add-on product” and additional revenue source.
“We are the largest coastline globally, [and] just on Vancouver Island alone, studies show over 600 different varieties of seaweed … three are currently being leveraged as commercial opportunities,” he said.
Smith said his association believes seaweed could provide up to $1 billion of net new GDP to the provincial economy, not just as a lone export, but in collaboration with other aquaculture industries and “leveraging assets” already in use by those industries.
As an example, he mentioned an organization in Maine that helps the sometimes struggling lobster fishing industry by helping fishermen harvest seaweed during the off-season for a “flatline revenue opportunity.”
Despite the seemingly bright future of ocean industries, there will be further setbacks like climate change and tighter regulation, the panelists said. Goldsworthy said a challenge for the aquaculture infrastructure is the remoteness of some sites and farms, especially for the electrical grid; however, he also sees it as an opportunity for further innovation.
Kingzett said the north Pacific has more salmon right now than it’s had in centuries because salmon are moving north due to climate change. With Asia’s growing middle class and increased seafood consumption in North America, wordwide demand by 2050 will require “another ocean’s supply” of seafood, “so we are now competing with all the rest of the world just even to have access to seafood.”