INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT - Vivian Krause Interview #1

Vivian Krause is the Corporate Development Manager for Nutreco in British Columbia.


It seems like Nutreco is playing a leadership role in the salmon farming industry. Do you see your company in that kind of role and do you see your company working to develop sustainable aquaculture practices?

Over the years there has been more and more criticism and scrutiny of salmon farming, and that is to be expected. We're at a crossroads now. We can ignore it or we can choose to respond. Our company and much of the industry is listening to our critics more and more. We're responding by improving our operations.

Many of the companies in salmon aquaculture have subsidiaries in various countries. Do the policies that you'll be describing apply to all the farms that Nutreco operates? To what degree are you trying to globalize better practices?

The issues we're facing are global and they require global solutions. We give a lot of thought to this issue, and our company has a policy respects regulations in every country in which we operate. We also, of course, have our own internal code of practice that we hold ourselves to no matter where we are.

With the lifting of the moratorium here in BC, there are people, environmentalists, fisherman, here and in Alaska, who fear that the number of salmon farms will grow a lot. These are people that fear a growth of the problems and they fear for their wild fisheries. With the moratorium being lifted, do people have anything to fear?

Government is enacting a new waste management act and simultaneously reopening the application process for new forms. Companies can now submit applications, and they'll be judged on the basis of their merit and their environmental management plan. What it costs is about 150,000 dollars in up front studies and analysis to put together a plan for a site that's specifically tailored to that spot on a coast.

There are no guarantees, and the government typically will spend about six months at the provincial level, evaluating the application, and then up to two years at the federal level. They are streamlining the process, so we expect that to be done in a timelier manner.

Just in terms of the lifting of the moratorium, is that a good thing that allows you to do a better job? Are there any grounds for the fears that people are expressing?

Farming, like fishing, has risks and impacts on the environment. With fishing you've got over-fishing, by-catch, impacts on the bottom, and with farming you've got issues too. But just like fishing can be sustainably managed, farming can as well. What's called the "lifting of the moratorium" is really the beginning of a new chapter in the history of salmon farming in British Columbia. It's the next leg of our journey. The signposts are going to be global competitiveness since we are a business. They're going to be consumer confidence in the food that we produce, and also responsiveness to fact-based criticism, a much higher level of environmental performance, and of course, very importantly, government regulations and enforcement of those regulations. Most of all, responsive management by the companies will need to happen.

What would you say to someone who's ringing their hands saying, "Oh god, they've lifted the moratorium. Now the oceans are going to be abused, along with the wild stocks of salmon and everything else?"

If properly done, salmon farming's not a bad thing. You can look around you and see how we've built this farm and how we manage this farm and judge for yourself.

You mentioned that the problem of farmed salmon escaping, which is one of the main complaints brought up by the critics, at least on your farms, is largely being solved.

There always will be a risk that some of the salmon might escape. For instance, just because of vandalism. The point is though, that we take serious measures to reduce that risk. We've relocated some of our farms. We've rebuilt all of our farms. We've invested in better net management and cameras. The farms are now much better managed. Most importantly, we've standardized the training. Like in anything, its the knowledgeable, conscientious people who make the difference.

Let's talk about the disease that can develop, both viral and bacterial with salmon that are being farm-raised. That is the really tough problem that Nutreco perceives, that's going to be maybe the toughest problem there is to solve. What are you implementing to cut down on the incidence of disease?

We bring our fish from the freshwater hatchery where they spend the first six to nine months of their lives. Before they leave the hatchery, we do tests to make sure that they're free of clinical signs of any disease. They're healthy when they leave the hatchery. Then they get put here in the pens where they're really at the mercy of the environment. There is an interaction between the farmed fish and the wild fish. An important point, though, is that there have been no new diseases introduced by farm fishing. But there is an interaction between the two, which could transport disease in the wild to farmed fish.

The critics of the industry are afraid that the use of antibiotics is a potential problem. Can the antibiotics in the feces spread into the environment and create more disease resistant pathogens in the natural environment?

Less than three percent of the feed that we feed our salmon contains antibiotics or medication of any kind. The amount of antibiotics that is used in fish farming is minuscule compared to what's used in other sectors of agribusiness. We do, from time to time, use antibiotics. But we never use them to accelerate the growth of the fish, for example. When they are used, it's under the prescription of a veterinarian, and we observe strict withdrawal periods, so that by the time the fish are harvested, there are no antibiotic residues.

What are Nutreco's goals with regard to parasitic infestations such as sea lice and so forth?

Sea lice are a part of the natural marine environment. It's very important to us that we don't disturb that. So we try to manage our farms in such a way that we don't exceed what you might call the background levels.

That sounds like a pretty ambitious goal, because what the critics are afraid of is that having so many fish all in one place increases many times the background level incidence of lice infestation in fish. So is that a goal you're working towards?

Sea lice management is a very important issue and there are many lessons to be learned from around the world.

What kind of lessons has Nutreco learned, just in terms of how to deal with it? How do you keep the level at background levels here, or on whatever farm you want to think about?

We find that it's important to begin right from the get-go with locating your farms in appropriate areas. That's the number one thing. Then number two, we have a sea lice monitoring program, so that all of our technicians are trained to collect data and to monitor the situation regularly. If a problem does develop, it's treatable, and that's done, involving our veterinarian and our farm technicians.

What is the standard practice in dealing with that? If a veterinarian comes in and says, "We need to treat, you have a problem with lice." How is that dealt with?

If we do have or we fear we might have a problem with sea lice, then we would administer a medication that's put in the feed. It's a seven day treatment; it's very effective.

You mentioned that that's probably the toughest disease that you guys have to deal with. I want to know what measures you're taking to deal with this, your toughest problem. What's in your bag of tricks to deal with the disease problem?

Disease is one of the most challenging issues. It's also one of the areas in which we're making the best and fastest progress. A lot of research and development is going into the issue. Our company, for instance, has spent more than 80 million dollars over the last 10 years. It all happens here at the farm, where the technicians, in consultation with the veterinarian, are on top of things. They're constantly monitoring the fish, keeping the densities low, fallowing the bottom, and that's the way that we are able to keep on top of fish health. Development of vaccines, for example, is why today less than two percent of our feed contains any kind of medication. That's how we manage to have excellent survival rates and actually very little disease.

What do you think about the food safety issue with regards to contaminants in the fishmeal or the fish oil?

Concerns have been raised about the content of PCBs and dioxins, which actually are found in virtually every food in the grocery store. Dr. Eastin, for instance, has recently done some studies, which we published in our social environmental report. He examined four fish and we tested more than 40, and actually we found slightly higher levels. But even at the levels that we find, which are similar to other foods, salmon is a very healthy, good food choice.

Our responsibility as food producers is to monitor what we produce and insure that it's of good quality and nutritious. In the case of farm fish, for example, the entry point, if you wish, would be the feed, and in particular, the fish oil that we use.
With every single batch of fish oil that we consider purchasing for our feed, we monitor it; we measure the safety and the quality of those raw ingredients. That's the way that we can assure ourselves that what we're producing is safe.

It's used prophylactically? It's in the feed all the time or is it only used when there's a problem?

We don't use antibiotics prophylactically, for example, we don't use them to accelerate the growth rate of the salmon. We very rarely use antibiotics, and if we would do so it would only be under the prescription of a veterinarian to treat a specific situation.

That's the point at which two or three percent is put into the feed?

Of all the bags of feed that come out of our factory, 97% of them contain no antibiotics or medication of any kind. Two to three percent will contain small amounts of antibiotics or other medication.

Are scientists working with Nutreco and other companies to try to develop a fish feed for salmon that utilizes vegetable oil instead of fish oil?

Currently most of the total global fishmeal is used by the poultry, pork and other industries. A much lesser portion is used for fish feed. The sustainability of the fish that we derive fishmeal and fish oil from is a concern, however, and we're addressing that by increasingly developing feeds which substitute non-marine ingredients like soy and wheat for the fishmeal and the fish oil components.

Talk about the use of the camera and how that's helping you run a safer operation.

These pens are at least 60 feet deep. The fish are swimming between 20 and 40 feet below the surface. Until we had underwater cameras, we couldn't see what was going on. Now that we have underwater cameras, we can monitor them as we feed. That's enabled us to reduce by almost half the amount of feed we're putting in these pens. For instance, before, it used to take us about 2.1 pounds of feed to produce one pound of salmon. Today, that's down to about 1.2 pounds.

Could you speak a little bit about what you're doing with this ISO certification? Sounds to me like the industry is sort of policing itself a little bit, or at least doing some pretty good quality control.

A number of organizations have raised concern about the impacts of salmon farming on the environment. The David Suzuki Foundation, David Lane from the TBuck Suzuki Foundation, Dr. John Volpe, Alexandra Morten, and our company share these concerns.
About two years ago, we started a new environmental program to systematize the efforts that we were making to relocate our farms, to rebuild our farms, to invest in new infrastructure and technology, and most of all to train our people so we can bring everyone's performance up to a high standard. That program has now been certified. We've got ISO 14,001 certification for that and that is just part of our whole process of continuously improving. Every six months, the auditors come in and they check up on us. They make sure that we're keeping up with our training programs, and with all of the other things that we've committed to do.

Can you speak to what degree the DFO or the provincial government comes in and does check-ups? Is the government involved in any of this?

Government regulation and enforcement of the regulations is very important, as is responsible management right here on the farms. We have DFO people that come by, and we get checked.

What do they check for?

There are regulations on managing the nets, in particular. That's part of the escape regulation. They're just enacting now a new waste management act. Then they will also be taking samples of the ocean bottom.

Let's talk about the degree to which copper nets are causing problems with the First Nation people's clam beds.

The issue's not the copper nets; it is, "don't put your farm near a clam bed."

Let's talk about citing farms, and just what can be done. Citing farms eliminates a lot of problems.

Locating your farm in an ecologically appropriate place is so important; you've just got to get it right from the get-go. As the law requires, you should not be within close proximity to a significant salmon-bearing stream. You should not be in somebody else's spawning ground, the prime habitat of marine mammals. For instance, to make sure that we can do that, we spend a lot of money. In the most recent farm application that we've put together, we've already spent more than $230,000 on environmental studies so that we know the habitat, and we're sure that in addition to getting good ocean depths and currents, that we're in an ecologically appropriate place.

Would that also have bearings on things like clam beds or other fisheries that First Nations or other communities would be operating?

We put a great deal of thought, study, and investment in environmental studies so that we are not in areas such as clam beds or important marine mammal habitats. Today there are farms that we're not happy with they're location, but the government has a relocation program. There are a number of farms that are on the waiting list to be relocated.

Are they Nutreco farms?

We've got two; we've discontinued at some of those farms though. We own licenses that we don't operate. We've discontinued operating at those sites because they don't meet our standards.

You're someone who's been in Indonesia, worked with United Nations, Unicef and spent a good part of your professional career trying to make this a better place to live. What got you into working for Nutreco? What got you into salmon aquaculture?

I'm a BC girl. I've been gone for 15 years and came home with a 10-year-old daughter. I love the coast, and it's really important to me that our children inherit an environment that we'll all be proud of. I heard a lot of horrific stories about salmon farming. As a nutritionist, though, it also seemed like this could make sense. We've got fewer and fewer fish in the ocean, and more and more people who want to eat more fish. And actually they should for their health.

So where are we going to get the fish from? At the same time, it's obvious that aquaculture has issues to grapple with, and I felt really privileged to find a company that was taking them seriously. Whatever we do, we should be proud of it. I've met a lot of people who are proud of what they do, and they do it because they believe in it, or they get out of it and they do something else. I don't think our guys should have to sit in the back of the pub and get looked at sideways. People are doing things responsibly. It's getting better all the time, and I think it's something to be proud of. In every industry, there are problems and issues. It's a matter of facing those, and that's what we're doing.

What else? Is there something else you would imagine would be a good statement to make that might have a place in our show?

In terms of the impacts of salmon farming on the environment, it's obvious that right here in the close proximity of the farm there is an impact. This is a farm. But we're committed to doing salmon farming in such a way that there is no negative permanent impact on wild salmon populations and on the marine ecosystem. Over the years, as I've said, there's been an escalating amount of criticism of salmon farming. There's been a lot of miscommunication and a big communication gap.

Most of the strongest critics of salmon farming have never been to a farm. We share the responsibility for that, we haven't invited them all either. There's a lot of emotional baggage here and it's time to unpack those bags. There are problems, this is our province, and it's time to get on with it, address the issues, be proud of what we do and we've got some tough things to work through, but I think if we work together, we can do it.