Consumers are wary of buying farmed fish and worry about the industry’s environmental impact, says in-house research by the Department of Fisheries. Nearly a third of Canadians surveyed, 29 percent, said they oppose aquaculture altogether.
“Those opposing aquaculture most often point to two main reasons: because of perceived irresponsible practices by the industry, or because of perceived negative effects aquaculture has on wild fish populations,” said a report Aquaculture In Canada 2019. The fisheries department paid Ekos Research Associates $99,934 for the survey of 2,015 consumers nationwide.
The findings follow a 2018 audit by then-Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand that regulators failed to monitor the use of pesticides in coastal aquaculture salmon pens, and failed to complete nine of ten promised risk assessments of disease in farmed fish. “There is no validation of industry self-reporting,” Gelfand said in November 22 testimony at the Senate fisheries committee.
In the department survey, 54 percent of consumers said they prefer to buy wild fish “because it is more environmentally friendly”, “healthier”, or “because it is seen as being higher quality”. Only five percent said they preferred to eat farmed fish.
Asked, “When you think about fish farming, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” the most common responses were fish grown for food (11 percent); “negative effects” on the environment (7 percent); diseased fish (7 percent); “irresponsible practices” (7 percent); “poor living conditions for fish” (6 percent); and genetic engineering (4 percent).
“Most Canadians, 42 percent, trust a scientist employed by a university to provide accurate, reliable and unbiased information about aquaculture,” wrote Ekos. “In comparison, ten percent of Canadians trust a scientist with the Government of Canada to provide that information.”
A majority, 62 percent, said news and information they’d heard about aquaculture was negative. And fifty percent of respondents said the fisheries department’s most important consideration should be “protecting biodiversity and sustainability of wild fish populations”. Only six percent named support for aquaculture companies as most important.
Commissioner Gelfand in testimony said the department appeared too close to fish farm operators. “Where there’s long-term funding for research, that’s to help promote the industry,” said Gelfand. “So, that just puts the department at risk. One of the big concerns we have is, is the department at risk to be seen to be promoting aquaculture to the detriment of wild salmon?”
“They’re not monitoring the health of wild fish,” said Gelfand. “So, really, if they’re not monitoring the health of wild fish, how can they really know what the impacts are of aquaculture?”