Sustainable Salmon Farming

Mowi Canada West
Written by Jen Hocken

Mowi Canada West is the Western Canada arm of Mowi ASA, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon. From its base on the Campbell River in British Columbia, Mowi Canada West produces 45,000 tonnes of sustainable, farm-raised salmon every year to be sold throughout North America.

Since 1964, Mowi has been developing innovative, environmentally sustainable processes and maintaining its respectful stewardship to the environment, to the salmon it farms, and to the First Nations communities within which it operates.

The company employs roughly six hundred people, primarily on Vancouver Island. It has salmon processing plants in Port Hardy and Klemtu and a value-added processing plant in Surrey. The company has facilities within the traditional territories of twenty-four Canadian First Nations and has developed agreements with most of them. Through these locations, the company farms, processes, and sells fresh salmon year-round.

Recently, the company underwent a rebranding and reclaimed an important piece of its heritage. Prior to 2019, it had been operating under the name Marine Harvest for many years, but in January, that changed. Coinciding with the launch of a new branded salmon product aimed at the consumer market, the company changed its name to echo the name of the high-quality breed of Atlantic salmon that has led it to so much success: Mowi.

The company and the fish share a name because they share a namesake. Marine Harvest was established as a result of several mergers and acquisitions throughout the seventies and eighties, but one of its original brands was a company founded in the 1960s by Thor Mowinckel. The Mowi breed and the Mowi brand are named in his honour.

Historically, Marine Harvest was a wholesale company, but with the rollout of its new brand, Mowi is bringing its products directly to consumers. This represents a significant shift in the company’s operation and has been very successful.

As the population grows and the climate changes, aquaculture is rapidly becoming one of the best prospects for meeting the nutritional needs of people around the world. Despite the vast majority of the planet’s surface being covered in water, less than two percent of the food we consume currently comes from the ocean.

For thousands of years, humanity has farmed the land, but the availability of arable farmland is shrinking as quickly as the population is growing. The solution to this problem can be found under the sea, and Mowi is helping to develop the most efficient aquaculture processes yet developed.

Central to Mowi’s mission is a strong commitment to sustainable aquaculture. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council is an industry organization that challenges companies like Mowi to meet a clear set of sustainability goals and provides certification for those who do. In August, Mowi’s farm in Lees Bay was assessed and became the twenty-fourth of the company’s British Columbia salmon farms to achieve that honour.

“Today, we have eighty percent of our production certified to that standard, and we’re on track to meet our commitment of having one hundred percent of our salmon certified by 2020,” says Executive Director Jeremy Dunn.

Aquaculture is a technology-driven industry, and new discoveries are always changing the way fish are farmed. Mowi has been very successful in its mission to maximize production while minimizing product loss, resource consumption, and environmental impact.

To improve the safety and quality of its salmon, the company has invested heavily in pest management strategies. It purchased a sea lice treatment system called a hydrolicer that uses turbulent water to remove sea lice from fish, capture them, and eliminate them from the environment. To complement this system, the company has also purchased a large treatment vessel, three times the size of any other boat used in B.C. aquaculture to date.

This boat uses hydrogen peroxide to treat fish for sea lice and uses a reverse osmosis process to generate freshwater to treat for sea lice and other parasites and irritants that can affect salmon scales. Implementing these substantial pest and parasite control measures are two examples of how the company embraces technology to improve efficiency.

For resource control, Mowi has taken a high-precision, data-driven approach to feed management. Through careful analysis of many factors, including salinity, temperature, and other water conditions, the company is learning the most efficient feeding frequency and quantity. “We look at the feed conversion ratio of how much feed it takes us to grow our fish by one kilogram, and we’ve brought that down to very close to one kilogram of feed for one kilogram of weight gain. That’s really an efficient use of an important resource,” says Dunn.

The feed resource is a critical factor in Mowi’s operation, and its feed manufacturing partners have put much work into the formulations that it is using. These formulas are designed to be nutritious, enabling the company to raise strong and healthy salmon.

“We’re a company that’s focused on raising a healthy product in a sustainable way because the environment is so important as the rearing grounds for our fish. We’re using technology and innovation to drive forward in that way.”

The company has a long history of building positive relationships with First Nations people in the province. Due to the nature of the work it does, these relationships are often hard-won. People tend to be suspicious of the dangers that a farming operation might pose to the fish or the environment, but in most cases, Mowi’s commitment to farming sustainably has won it favour.

“It hasn’t always been easy, and we’ve not always been successful in building relationships in all of our operating areas, but in most we have. Our longest-standing partnership is with the Kitasoo/ Xai’xais in Klemtu. We recently celebrated our twentieth anniversary of that partnership and are working with them to secure a new partnership.”

Klemtu is a small First Nation community with a population of 450 people. For the last two decades, the Kitasoo/Xai’xais have enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership with Mowi in which they have helped to build a state-of-the-art aquaculture program capable of processing 5,000 metric tonnes of salmon a year. In November, the company’s partnership with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais will be renewed with the signing of a new agreement.

Historically, Mowi had grown and processed fish in the Kitasoo territory, but the plant in which this was done has aged and is nearing the end of its useful life. Both parties have agreed that the best way forward is to build a value-added salmon smoking plant in the territory. This project will come to fruition in 2020.

Through this new partnership, Mowi will work closely with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority. The company has committed to collecting data related to its environmental impact and sharing it with the authority on an ongoing basis to ensure that the operation meets the standards that the Kitasoo Nation expects.

“We have agreements with twelve other nations as well. In fact, almost all of our salmon is under some form of agreement with First Nations, including the recently announced Indigenous Monitoring Inspection Protocol and Broughton framework agreement for our farms in the Broughton Archipelago,” says Dunn.

In Broughton, Mowi has reached an agreement with the Namgis, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis, and Mamalilikula First Nations wherein it will cooperatively develop a comprehensive monitoring and inspection system that enables the First Nation government to have oversight over fish farming operations within their territory. This agreement helps to create transparency between First Nations and the aquaculture industry.

Mowi has worked throughout its existence to build and sustain deep ties to First Nations communities. The company understands that these relationships are of critical importance for the success of the business and has always put those relationships first as it continues to do its part for reconciliation with First Nations people.



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