That’s the main thing took home when I had the amazing opportunity last month to visit our sister company in Chile, and to see how they farm and process salmon. I work for Cermaq Canada, which farms salmon in different locations around Vancouver Island. We are part of a global group which also farms salmon in Chile and Norway.
Our global communications team travelled to the southwest coast of South America for a week of meetings, workshops and collaboration. It was a great chance to learn more about what similarities and differences there are between Canada and Chile, in terms of salmon farming but also in a much more general sense.
Cermaq Chile is a big company. It employs more than 2,000 people on a full-time basis, and produces nearly 60,000 tonnes of salmon per year. Cermaq Chile is the largest company in the Cermaq family, and sends quality Atlantic salmon and Coho salmon all around the world. It’s a major local employer in Puerto Montt, where the head office is located, and for the surrounding regions.
One thing BC and Chile have in common is how salmon farming creates a huge amount of secondary businesses which support and supply the farms and processing plants. Divers, truck drivers, machinists, welders, processing plant workers, manufacturers and many more rely on salmon farming companies in both countries. The big difference is how visible those support and supply businesses are.
When I visited the office, the first thing I noticed on the way there was all the salmon farming-related billboards along the highway, advertising sea lice treatments, vaccines, equipment, and more. Salmon farming employs a lot of Chileans, and they are proud to show it.
The research farm is looking at a number of things that would be useful for BC farmers. Once we boated out to the site, we saw how some pens are doing feed trials, some are doing vaccine trials, and others are experimenting with different farming practices to see how they affect growth and health.
We visited the main processing plant, which was an interesting experience as we had to don an entire wardrobe of clean clothes and protective measures to even go inside. After putting on special boots, a coat, mask, hairnet and balaclava, we were able to see how Cermaq Chile provides the world with more than 800,000 salmon meals per day. We walked past carts full of frozen fish destined for Russia, the USA, and Canada.
We watched the deft fingers of workers on the fillet line manually removing pin bones from fresh fillets, which were then vacuum-packed and sent through the freezer on their way to parts unknown. We saw premium fresh product packed into fancy totes, which would be in the air on its way to Asia by the end of the day. It is one of the most impressive food processing facilities I’ve ever seen.
The rest of my visit was spent in meetings with our global communications team, and we focused on the similar challenges we all face. The biggest challenge is that, unfortunately, salmon farming is often seen as something negative on a global scale. In places where its beneficial effects are obvious, where people are employed directly and indirectly by salmon farms, people are very supportive. But those regions are usually small coastal communities near where the farms are. In cities, far from the farms but full of influential voices, the mere mention of salmon farming makes many people wrinkle their noses.
One thing I took away from my trip that explains this phenomenon is that most people who say they are against salmon farms don’t really know what salmon farming is. They have a vague impression based on a few negative things they’ve heard in the past, and they don’t know or don’t care to know what it’s really like. But in places like Puerto Montt, where salmon farming is an important part of everyone’s life because it drives the economy, people are more focused on the positive.
I’m working on raising that positive profile here in BC. Thousands of British Columbians work directly or indirectly in salmon farming, which produces the province’s single largest agricultural export.
However, because of a lot of loud and influential negative voices, mostly from Victoria and Vancouver, our industry constantly has to defend itself over issues and concerns that are, frankly, microscopic in the bigger picture. But we are committed to always improving, always finding ways to do things better, because even if a perceived issue is microscopic in reality, we need to address it to assure people that we take their concerns seriously. After all, we all share this coast and this ocean, and none of us wants to do anything that harms the natural environment.
Returning to cold, rainy winter BC after a week in the sun was a bit of a shock, but I came back full of ideas and inspiration for how Cermaq, and how salmon farmers, can work together and work with BC to do better, and continue to produce top-quality fish that are in demand worldwide.
And after working with my colleagues in Chile, I’m looking forward to working more closely as a group to showing the world the many positive effects of our business, which is helping provide the world with healthy, sustainable food.
Grant Warkentin is Communications Officer with Cermaq Canada in Campbell River. He can be reached at 250.286.0022.