History of BC Salmon Farming

History of salmon farms in British Columbia

Due to diminishing numbers of wild salmon in the latter part of the 20th century, British Columbia began to supplement supply with hatchery production. Hatcheries culture salmon for their freshwater phase of life before releasing into the marine environment to continue growth. These hatchery programs continue today and have been an important part of ensuring wild salmon thrive in British Columbia.

Salmon farming is a continuation of the hatchery theme and began in BC on a commercial basis in the 1970s.

In the beginning most farm sites were centered in the Sunshine Coast area, north of Vancouver. Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Barkley Sound, and Ocean Falls also had numerous salmon farm sites. The owners of these farms learned about this up and coming industry through trial and error, particularly in regards to what species of salmon was most likely to be successfully raised to harvest size.

The 1980s saw expansion of the industry into waters near Campbell River, Sayward and Port McNeill. It was a period of large capital outlay for steel pen systems (replacing old wooden pens) and state-of-the-art equipment. Unfortunately, the latter part of the decade saw record low salmon prices. As a result, many of the companies couldn’t survive financially and either went out of business or were purchased by large companies with the financial resources needed.

Throughout the 1990s and continuing today, the salmon aquaculture industry has adaptively managed its operations and is constantly striving to use the most current and proven technology to produce healthy, sustainable salmon.

Today, about 75 British Columbia salmon farms produce fresh, farm-raised salmon for sale in Canada and the USA - providing British Columbia its largest agricultural export.

For a very good, in-depth look into the history of BC salmon farms and much more, we recommend you read "Salmon Farming: The Whole Story" by author Peter Robson.