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Expired · 31st October 2010
Ray Grigg
The entire front page of the "We're farming for the future" brochure recently distributed by the BC Salmon Farmers Association is the close-up photograph of a young child's face, its large dark eyes gazing directly into the eyes of the viewer. Four of the child's little fingers are tentatively at its mouth and the hint of a few crumbs suggests it has been eating – presumably, in the best of all possible worlds, its food of choice has been farmed salmon. The photograph is arresting, reminiscent of the illuminating portraits of Rembrandt van Rijn and Leonardo da Vinci.

Children, of course, are the promise of humanity's future, and the BC Salmon Farming Association clearly wants the readers of its brochure to link this child and its security with the vision of sustainability offered by salmon farming corporations – the same corporations that would abandon such children as an unfortunate economic necessity, as they did in Chile, if unforeseen circumstances turned against profitability. This guise of pseudo caring and concern is presumably the reason why the commanding face of a single child is used to promote farmed salmon.

But, like Rembrandt's self-portraits and Leonardo's Mona Lisa, this child's face is more complex than the simple first impression being engineered by the salmon farmers. A closer look at its face shows hints of query and apprehension, with traces of uneasiness and uncertainty. Innocence is always accompanied by vulnerability. Trust and expectation, the hallmark of a child's character, make the misleading assurances and implicit dishonesty of the brochure more of an exercise in manipulative effrontery than a comforting assurance of the future.

Like all evocative photographs, this one has far greater depth and integrity than the presumptuous and vague promises that follow in the next seven pages – except, perhaps, for the recipe on the last page, and the illustrated steak that could just as well be wild salmon produced most generously outside the polluting and infection propagating open net-pens where the industry chooses to grow its fish. And just because the brochure boasts farmed salmon to be "British Columbia's number one agricultural export" doesn't necessarily imbue it with commendable attributes – the dollar value of BC's marijuana crops are estimated to be eight times larger.

But no one denies the economic benefits of salmon farming to British Columbia. The problem is the collateral environmental damage it currently does. This is sad, unnecessary and constraining. A technologically progressive industry has the potential to evolve beyond controversy, to be truly sustainable, and to contribute substantially more to the social and economic fabric of BC than it presently does. Like the child on the front page of its brochure, the industry is still immature, unschooled and uncouth by most measures of sophistication. This is why it attracts attention. Its infantile behaviour invites education and reform. Despite its virtues, its practices are still crude and unrefined.

As the brochure proudly boasts, "BC's #1 agricultural export doesn't grow on land". But responsible members of society do not dirty diapers, eat with their hands, pollute ecologies, destroy wildlife, or spread diseases and parasites with the abandon of an unbridled child. If the salmon farming industry is to grow and mature, it must move from the sea to closed-containment, land-based systems. This is the only way it will become benign and sustainable enough to expand and integrate into an ecological and economic future. If it does not mature in this manner, it will grow from its highchair into an adolescent hoodlum and an adult criminal always in conflict with the laws of nature and society's evolving expectations.

The industry's present behaviour is not encouraging. Its brochure is rife with self-congratulatory statements, platitudinous promises, vague generalization and inaccurate inferences that are, at best, misleading. Assurances like "moving toward", "working...to develop", "continue to pay diligent attention" and "we care about wild salmon" are simply vacuous. Blatant omissions abound. While some agreements are being forged with First Nations, others are suing salmon farming corporations for damage to wild stocks and to cultural heritage. While North Island MLA Claire Trevena recognizes the economic merit of salmon farming, she was also on a government created commission that recommended the industry move to closed-containment.

Misleading inferences saturate in this brochure. Implying that farmed salmon are "a cultural cornerstone of many First Nations" is as inaccurate as defining farmers as hunters because they both eat meat. The cultural tradition of First Nations is connected to the ageless cycle of migrating and spawning wild salmon, to the mystery of these cycles and to all the natural richness associated with them. The sacred autumn feasts of eagles and gulls do not occur on the dead carcasses of net-pen fish. Bears do not fatten for hibernation by eating farmed salmon. Industrialized salmon production does not bring crucial nutrients to remote inland streams and spawning channels. The brochure's gimmick of superimposing multiple images of iconic First Nations' salmon over a scarlet sea at sunset forgets that these symbols of abundance are free-swimming creatures of the wild, not captives within cages. And finally, the fish grown in the industry's "feed lots" – as Alexandra Morton derisively and rightly describes the practice – are Atlantic salmon, a exotic species that was never a part of West Coast culture. The fish, like the industry itself, is a unnatural foreign imposition.

As for the recipe and salmon steak on the last page of the brochure, experts agree that wild fish taste better. And, as for feeding a young child such a steak, the bones could be lethal – inducing very much the choking feeling that comes from critically reading this transparent attempt by the BC Salmon Farmers Association to glorify the status of itself, is practices and its farmed product.

So, from beginning to end, this self-congratulatory propaganda screed has a lot of bones that must be removed before its claims taste remotely like honest salmon. Chew its contents very carefully and swallow very little. Then digest it as a thoughtful and discriminating adult, and not as a wide-eyed and gullible child.