Share | | More

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Draft standards for organic aquaculture contain a lot of bull sediment

When faced with managing serious impacts of important oceans industries, the Canadian government sometimes pulls out their weaksaurus. Unlike a normal thesaurus, the weaksaurus doesn't give you synonyms. Instead, it kind of gives you words that vaguely convey a weaker version of the original word. We'll call them weakonyms. For example: if you look up the word "prevent" in a normal thesaurus, you get responses like "prohibit" and "stop". You know - synonyms. Government's weaksaurus, however, gives you the weakonym "mitigate", which kind of changes the meaning of the thing that you're doing but whatever. That's just an example that I've seen first-hand.

The recently released draft standards for organic aquaculture, put out by the government of Canada (the Canadian General Standards Board and DFO), have some great weakonyms, most of which serve to weaken the language in the standards for fish aquaculture. For example: while it says that invertebrate aquaculture has "waste" that must be collected and disposed of properly, it says that open net pen finfish aquaculture apparently only has "sediment", the buildup of which on the seafloor must only be "minimized". Excellent use of the weaksaurus!

Anyway, since the standards seem to use "sediment" as a weakonym for "waste" - the feces and feed waste from aquaculture facilities - then I will follow suit and say that I personally believe that many of the proposed standards for organic finfish aquaculture are bull sediment. I trust that given the weakified nature of the term, nobody will get upset. Sound good? Let's sift through the sediment, then: 

Throughout the draft standards, the requirements for open net cage finfish aquaculture are stunningly lenient, even when viewed alongisde the same document's standards for invertebrate aquaculture. For example, while invertebrate aquaculture outfits are prohibited from the 'destruction of aquatic animal or aquatic animal habitat' and are required to collect and dispose of 'all wastes produced by an operation',  open net fish aquaculture outfits must only 'minimize' the build-up of 'sediment' (I'm still amazed!), and they are only asked to make sure that non-lethal methods of predator deterrence are their first choice.

And what about antibiotics and other drugs? Yep, they're still allowed: finfish outfits can still use antibiotics and other veterinary drugs (to 'avoid suffering to the animal', and not to 'prevent suffering of the shareholder', of course); veterinary drugs cannot be used by invertebrate aquaculture outfits. Well, are there limits to how often the finfish operations can use synthetic drugs? Yes! They can only apply them twice a year - unless, of course, they have to do it more than that.

The language offers virtually no restrictions on the use of chemicals by finfish aquaculture operations for the purpose of managing bio-fouling or pests. It allows finfish aquaculture operations to manage fouling organisms using "environmentally sustainable methods" - but gives no guidance on what that term actually means - and, incredibly, in one paragraph (6.8.3) appears to give the thumbs-up to the use of any pest control substance in existence. In contrast, plant aquaculture operations are restricted to using physical methods for removing bio-fouling organisms, and invertebrate operations are prohibited (no weakonym there!) from using synthetic pesticides.

So to sum it up: the proposed standards for 'organic' finfish aquaculture allow open net operations to continue to dump their wastes into the ocean and apply antibiotics and synthetic pesticides, and make absolutely no mention of preventing the transmission of disease or parasites into wild populations. And in return for apparently having to change virtually nothing, open net salmon aquaculture will be rewarded - by the government - with the holy designation of 'organic' and all of the benefits thereof, including a glowing halo that will shine a blinding green light into the eyes of the masses.

Now, this is not happening in a vacuum. In other parts of the world, some folks on the aquaculture side of things have expressed concerns that strict organic standards would bar even the best and most enlightened open net pen aquaculture operations from the organic label. Furthermore, they make the point that organic terrestrial agriculture still has substantial ecological impacts. These are good points to ponder, and it's only reaonable to expect that standards for organic aquaculture should be attainable. However, there is a tremendous difference between making standards that are attainable versus standards that are permissive. These draft standards, as they are currently written, are simply permissive: they do not seem to require open net finfish aquaculture operations to make any substantial or measurable changes in the use of chemicals, the siting of farms, the handling of wastes, or the prevention of disease and pest transmission from farmed to wild stocks.  Perhaps I am wrong and if so, I am very open to hearing otherwise.

The loser in all of this? Well, besides the fact that marine ecosystems will continue to get the short end of the stick, all of those well-intentioned consumers who are willing to pay a bit extra for that organic label will probably not be getting that they think they're getting. And if they do find out that their 'organic' salmon is nothing more than normal old farmed salmon with a permissive label slapped on it, their faith in the organic designation may be shaken -and rightfully so.

All's not lost, however - there is still time to make sure that Canada's organic aquaculture standards live up to the spirit of 'organic'. The public comment period lasts until August 30, so you have time to voice your concerns. Visit the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform's website to learn more about salmon farm issues, and visit the Canadian General Standards Board's website to download the draft standards for yourself, and to obtain a comment form so that you can submit detailed comments.


  1. oh it all gets sillier and sillier - when will the policy makers remember that they represent us not big business....

  2. Maybe right after they bring back the mandatory long census form.