In the sometimes heated discussion about salmon aquaculture – ocean ranching and salmon farming – quite often the “precautionary principle” is a term thrown about by those who question its sustainability. In other words, in the absence of absolute scientific certainty, they suggest the activity should cease.
The precautionary approach to fisheries management has been described as “being cautious when scientific knowledge is uncertain, and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone action or failure to take action to avoid serious harm to fish stocks or their ecosystem.”
By the middle of the 20th century, the commercial and sport fishery, and the management of it, was taking its toll on salmon populations in the North Pacific. Governments responded with a conservative approach such as limiting stock exploitation and rehabilitating and protecting vital salmon habitat. While scientific uncertainty remained, exploitation of salmon for sport and commercial purposes continued.
As further response to stock depletion, governments began the artificial propagation of several salmon species: aquaculture. Significant hatchery and ocean ranching programs began in North America in the late 1960s. Salmon farming (essentially a continuation of hatchery and ocean ranching programs – but holding the fish in containment until harvest) began to take root in the 1970s.
Aquaculture, whether it be hatchery propagation, ocean ranching or salmon farming, was developed as a response to over-exploitation and habitat degradation.
Aquaculture is a precautionary approach to fisheries management.
While salmon aquaculture has an impact – all human activities do – there are also obvious benefits to those who choose not to ignore them. If there are unanswered questions regarding the impacts of salmon aquaculture, we must attempt to answer them and in the meantime apply appropriate conservation and management measures.
It is these science-based responses to valid sustainability questions that have helped build today’s robust salmon aquaculture regulations in the United States and Canada, and these regulations continue to be modified as our scientific understanding grows.
Thank goodness the human race hasn’t pack up shop every time someone uttered the ‘ol “precautionary principle” catchphrase when faced with scientific uncertainty. If we did, we’d still be living in C.A.V.E.S.