Critics of open-net fish farms say the escape of Atlantic salmon from a Washington state pen that held 305,000 fish should spur Canada to support a transition to land-based aquaculture because it's already leading the world with the most facilities using that method.
Kuterra, based in the Vancouver Island community of Port McNeill and owned by the Namgis First Nation, is the leading closed-containment Atlantic salmon company in Canada, followed by Sustainable Blue in Dartmouth, N.S.
The First Nation, which received part of its funding from Tides Canada on the basis that it provide open access to its knowledge, has enabled Kuterra to become an industry leader, says Steve Summerfelt of the Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute in Shepherdstown, W. Va.
"All across the globe, people are following Kuterra very closely," he said. "It's been a great project for the whole industry to see the transparency, to see what their performances were, what their challenges were and what worked really well."
He said two Nova Scotia companies have produced salmon on a smaller scale, positioning Canada as a global leader in the industry though investors have taken a wait-and-see approach.
The water recirculating technology to grow salmon has steadily improved over the last three decades, Summerfelt said, adding the system uses less water and draws out waste that's turned into fertilizer instead of being dumped in the ocean.
Bob Chamberlin, chairman of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, said the Washington state spill earlier this week near B.C. waters requires investment by government and industry for more sustainable ways to farm salmon.
"The government's infatuation with open-net cage fish farms means there's not the necessary government support with programs, tax breaks, capital incentives and so on to facilitate the flourishment of the closed-containment industry in Canada," he said.
Jeremy Dunn, spokesman for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said the Washington spill involved an outdated salmon-farming structure that isn't used in the province, where he said 109 farms exist, though the industry remains controversial.
"Well over 90 per cent of salmon is raised in open net-pens," he said of the global aquaculture business, adding concerns about Atlantic salmon are continually addressed through innovation, adding any escapees are typically killed by predators.