« March 2013 Table of Contents
Networking: Pamela Parker
Executive director, Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association — Letang, New Brunswick
By James Wright
March 01, 2013
There’s little doubt that aquaculture plays a huge role in Canada’s coastal economies, both on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Salmon farms, in particular, are one of the largest employers in Canada’s Maritime provinces. Pamela Parker, the executive director of the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA), is one of the key voices for an industry that is open about its challenges but proactively making improvements. The industry, she says, sees itself as a solution to both economic and global food-supply issues.
Parker’s path to salmon-farm advocate, which she took on in 2009, is a bit unusual, given that she was born and raised in Saskatchewan, hundreds of miles from any ocean. But she has strong experience in aquaculture, having helped the British Columbia government establish the B.C. Pacific Salmon Forum in 2005. There she helped facilitate a four-year mandate to study the interaction between wild and farmed salmon. The conclusion? There’s plenty of room for both, if done responsibly. What are ACFFA’s objectives?
Advocacy and liaison with regulators, communication, support for environmental projects, maintaining positive relationships with local communities, career awareness in our schools, collaborative research programs and ensuring that we have a sound business climate to operate. How important is aquaculture to Atlantic Canada’s economy?
It’s extremely important to rural, coastal communities. As other resource sectors have seen challenges, our industry holds promise for the future. New Brunswick has a fairly mature industry, operating for over 30 years, serving as headquarters for many of the companies operating in Atlantic Canada. Therefore a lot of the R&D will happen here. In Charlotte County, almost 16 percent of the workforce is employed in some manner by aquaculture — almost 2,000 jobs in one area. Southwest New Brunswick went from a fairly depressed, have-not area to a vibrant area. Our communities are very healthy, with high employment, and that’s reflected in the infrastructure.
Our industry is worth over $2 billion to the Canadian economy. At a time when all governments are looking for sustainable economic development, especially in rural coastal areas, all aquaculture holds significant potential.What is the climate for outside investors, since aquaculture is not a quick-return financial venture?
No, it isn’t, but last year we saw investment by Loch Duart, a Scottish company, in Nova Scotia. They have some applications in the works for additional farms. The one challenge that Canada has is our regulatory regime is very complex, not necessarily easy to navigate. On a national scale, the industry is working with the federal government, looking at some regulatory reforms. We agree we need strong, science-based regulations, but as you can appreciate, our industry is regulated on both a federal and provincial level and we’d like to work with our regulators to streamline and modernize the framework for our industry. That will enhance investor confidence into our sector.
We’re also being managed through a fisheries act that was implemented almost at the time of confederation. It’s 100 years old. We’re farmers, not fishermen. What are the most common “myths” about your industry?
Impacts as a result of disease and the perception that if salmon farms are in a certain jurisdiction, the lobster fishery would be impacted. Also the sea lice treatments would have negative impacts on other species and that [our] fish receive significant amounts of antibiotics. None of this is true. Less than 3 percent of salmon have been given medication. [Salmon farms are] not feed lots. Less than 4 percent of a net pen is actually occupied by fish, which lets them replicate their natural schooling behavior. It’s how we manage or farms, how we treat our stock. Any treatment we use goes through rigorous risk assessments. We don’t find, as result of our research, that there is any negative impact to the marine environment or to target species like lobster.