Author Tags: Fishing, Forestry, Maritime
Born in Vancouver in 1956, Peter Andrew Robson was a key component in the team that produced the Encyclopedia of British Columbia, overseeing the printing of the book. He previously worked as a freelance writer and photographer; he crewed and skippered boats in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Caribbean; and he worked as a tenderman in the BC salmon industry. These experiences led him to jobs as the editor of Westcoast Fisherman and Pacific Yachting. In April of 2006 he was a crewmember/journalist aboard Victoria Clipper in the 30-day, 5,600-mile leg of the Round the World Yacht Race from Qingdao, China to Victoria B.C., making daily postings via satellite to Pacific Yachting's website and to David Black's community newspapers.
Robson has written and edited hundreds of articles on fishing and logging. His books include The Working Forest of British Columbia (Harbour, 1995) and several other titles pertaining to the West Coast, plus a manuscript about the salmon aquaculture industry that Raincoast Books was contracted to publish in 2005. Offering a positive or balanced view of aquaculture in British Columbia, it was released one year later by Heritage House as Salmon Farming: The Whole Story, edited by Mary Schendlinger. It can be read as a response to the award-winning anti-fish farming book from Robson’s former employer, A Stain Upon The Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming (Harbour), released two years previously. The Keith Matthews Awards Committee of the Canadian Nautical Research Society awarded Robson’s Salmon Farming: The Whole Story an Honorary Mention for Best Book published in 2006 on a Canadian nautical subject or by a Canadian on any nautical subject.
Peter Robson is also the editor of Raincoast Chronicles 23 (Harbour, 2015), a compendium of excerpts from some of the classic West Coast books published Harbour Publishing over a 40-year period. It could described as The Least Boring B.C. Book Ever.
The contributors include Al Purdy, Anne Cameron, Edith Iglauer, Frank White, Patrick Lane and Grant Lawrence. Subjects include sea disasters, bush plane adventures, ghost towns, bizarre characters such as Fred Tibbs of Tofino, confiscation of Japanese fishboats, Triangle Island, Queen Charlotte Airlines, hippies at Sointula, seal hunting, Yuquot (Friendly Cove), cougar hunting and the Read Island murder mystery.
According to publicity materials: "When the first edition of Raincoast Chronicles was produced by a couple of novice publishers in the unlikely location of Pender Harbour in 1972, it boldly announced that it was going “to put BC character on the record.” Printed in sepia ink and decorated with the rococo flourishes characteristic of that extravagant era, the unclassifiable journal-cum-serial-book about life on the BC coast struck a nerve and in time became something very close to what it set out to be—a touchstone of British Columbia identity. Soon the term “Raincoast,” which had been coined by the editors, was appearing on boats, puppet theatres, interior decorating firms and at least one other publishing enterprise.
"Raincoast Chronicles also created another publishing enterprise—Harbour Publishing. Many of the stories that started out as articles in the Chronicles grew into books and so the White family was more or less forced to get into book publishing to deal with them. That undertaking went on to publish some six hundred books (and counting!) about every possible aspect of BC and, in 2014, celebrated its fortieth anniversary in the biz. To honour that occasion this special double issue of Raincoast Chronicles takes a tour down memory lane, selecting a trove of the most outstanding stories in all those Harbour books and republishing them in one volume."
Peter Robson was project manager for The Sea Among Us: The Amazing Strait of Georgia (Harbour 2014) which is currently nominated for two BC Book Prizes. He was a contributor to Raincoast Chronicles 22 (Nighttime Sojourn with the Sockeye); co-author of Skookum Tugs (Harbour, 2002), winner of the Bill Duthie BC Booksellers' Choice Award; he edited Sunshine & Salt Air (Harbour); and he co-edited Working the Tides: A Portrait of Canada's West Coast Fishery (Harbour, 1996).
Sunshine & Salt Air (Harbour). Editor.
The Working Forest of British Columbia (Harbour, 1995).
Working the Tides: A Portrait of Canada's West Coast Fishery (Harbour, 1996). Co-editor.
Skookum Tugs (Harbour, 2002). Co-author.
Salmon Farming: The Whole Story (Heritage 2006). $19.95 1-894974-07-7
Raincoast Chronicles 23 (Harbour Publishing, 2015) $24.95 978-1-55017-710-7. Editor.
[BCBW 2015] "Forestry" "Maritime" "Fishing"
Salmon Farming: The Whole Story
Bill Good: Good morning.
Peter Robson: Morning.
B: You say you have no agenda, you’ve written a book titled Salmon Farming: The Whole Story. You may not have had an agenda, but can you study this issue and not form strong opinions on the value of or the dangers of fish farming?
P: When I wrote this book I had no idea what was going to happen. I said I wanted to learn about salmon farming and I’m hearing different stories. What’s the truth here? So I went and investigated and I figured that the book that I was going to write was going to conclude with whatever I found and had no idea what to expect. So, it was quite an interesting experience. I don’t think you can have real strong feelings about salmon farming. There is still so much we don’t know about salmon farming. So many unknowns here. I can say, fairly strongly, that I couldn’t find any smoking gun that was wrecking the environment permanently, some of the horror stories we we’re hearing. I couldn’t find real evidence to back that up.
B: My problem is that so many people have such strong opinions, but they tend to ignore the other side or dismiss the other side, regardless of what they say. Is this a black and white issue?
P: No, it certainly isn’t. I think very few people who are outspoken about salmon farming are unbiased. Most of them are coming from one side or the other. Certainly salmon farmers want you to think that there is nothing wrong with it and the groups opposed to salmon farming want you to think that the sky is falling.
B: Is farmed salmon safe to eat?
P: Yes, I would say definitely. There is no doubt about it. As far as I’m concerned, the nutritional value, every study that’s been done, is exactly the same for farmed salmon as it is for wild salmon.
B: but the emotion has become such, many people go into a restaurant and say, “is this wild fish?” And if it’s not, then they won’t order it.
P: Certainly and that’s because they’ve been told farmed salmon is bad, they don’t know whether it is or isn’t. It’s just the story that they’ve been told. I think there’s probably no restaurant in Vancouver that’s gonna advertise “we sell farmed salmon,” but there’s certainly a lot that are gonna say “we don’t sell farmed salmon or we sell wild salmon.”
B: Does farmed salmon threaten wild fish?
P: I don’t think we’ve seen any results so far. There’s been no evidence that we’re actually harming populations of wild stocks from farming wild salmon.
B: What about all the stories that we’ve seen. And Alexandra Morton was here not a month ago talking about sea lice and the damage they do to wild stocks. Would you dispute that?
P: Yes, I’d say certainly. I don’t think that anybody would argue that where you have salmon farms and those salmon have lice on them that there is going to be more lice shed into the environment. The question is whether those lice have an impact and what impact those lice have on the wild stocks. That’s the question with lice. It’s the same thing as disease transmission. Yes, if the fish are sick, there’s going to be more pathogens floating around. But are they having an effect on wild stocks? So far, there is no evidence. If you look at the pink salmon returns in the lice example to the Broughton and Chum salmon returns, they’re rebounding very well from a crash that happens every so many years and has happened since we’ve kept records long before salmon farming.
B: You’ve discovered that there is no collapse of a salmon run.
P: No, absolutely not. Nothing that is documented.
B: Does salmon farming eventually have to be land based to be environmentally sensitive.
P: Well, in a perfect world, I think that would be a great solution. We wouldn’t have any worries about what harm it would do to the environment or potentially do to the environment. The problem with farming on land is it’s just not economically viable. It’s been tried around the world in different place and the cost of land, the cost of electricity, the infrastructure for setting it up is so much more expensive that by the time you’ve paid for all that, you’re in the hole. You’re not making any salmon farming, so why bother.
B: You’ve anticipated my next question. Can it be land-based and economically viable.
P: No, I don’t think it can be. Plus you still have some of the issues there that are raised about farmed salmon. They are being raised in captivity, they are being raised in higher densities on land, they are being fed the same food and they are having the same disease problems.
B: So do we need farmed salmon?
P: Well, the world certainly seems to be. It’s the number 3 seafood in North American, after shrimp and tuna. The average Canadian eats 7 pounds of salmon. I don’t think we need it…
B: We export more salmon than any other product, I believe, in terms of food products.
P: Yes, it’s the number 1 agricultural export and by far the greatest proportion of that is farmed salmon. The U.S. being our greatest market.
B: You’re walking a fine line here and I think I understand where you’re coming from. You wanted to do as much research as possible, to the best of your knowledge get the whole story. But you don’t want to appear to be defending the salmon farming industry.
P: Yes, that was the most difficult part of writing the book. I was on nobody’s payroll, so therefore I didn’t have to come up with any conclusions. It is tough, because my conclusions coming out that the impacts are generally a lot less than what some people would have us believe would seem to indicate that I was defending salmon farming and I’m really not defending salmon farming. I’m defending the science that is out there, the science that we know. Of course we don’t know a lot of things, but I am prepared to defend what I did conclude in my research.
B: Would you rather eat wild salmon or farmed salmon?
P: My favourite is wild sockeye. I have nothing against farmed salmon, I eat it whenever it’s served. Sushi, I actually prefer farmed salmon in my sushi.
B: That’s probably because the sushi chef told you its better to work with.
P: That’s right, yes, sushi chefs said they much prefer the farmed salmon because of its elasticity.
B: Because I’m guessing that when you’re eating the sushi you can’t tell one from the other.
P: (laughs) probably not. And it’s funny, they’ve done all kinds of taste tests. And generally the blind taste tests, people prefer farmed salmon to wild salmon among chefs. I’ve got several examples in the book of these taste tests that were done, which is surprising. I’d like to see someone do it here and see what happens. But it shouldn’t be wild salmon against farmed salmon. All salmon is good for you and it should be loved by all of us.
Jason (caller): hi there, I was just wondering, seeings how there seems to be some inconclusions here, if the government should not air on the side of caution, instead of putting a bunch of fish farms up by the skeena river and the major salmon runs there. Should they not air on the side of caution and not put the farms there.
P: The government is going quite slow on expansion. I don’t think we’re quite at the point where we’ve got a panic. I think since the moratorium was lifted on fish farms in 2002 there’s been 4, 5 or 6 licences, but we haven’t seen an increase in the actual number of fish farms. Yes, I think we want to be very careful about expansion here, but at the same time, unless we can show that there’s actual problems with it, that its going to cause detrimental impacts, then I don’t see why we should be totally shutting it down just because we’re not 100% sure there’s going to be zero impact. Any agricultural activity we do, any farming we do, has an impact on the environment. It just depends whether we’re prepared as British Columbians to accept that amount of impact as part of our industry.
B: That’s a good point. You don’t do any farming without having some environmental impact.
P: That’s right, yes. I tried to, for perspective, give examples of land farming, of how much area it takes. For example, British Columbia, all the active salmon farms take a square kilometre. Farm land in Canada, we’re looking at 40 million hectares.
B: And we protect it in an agricultural land reserve.
P: Now salmon farming is a little different. I think we should pay more attention to it because it’s a public resource and our waters, our crown lands, we want to make sure that we’re not causing any damage to the environment.
B: It goes beyond salmon farming though. There’s a lot of aquiculture being done and in some cases I really worry about the damage being done to public beaches where they’re allowing oyster beds and that kind of thing.
P: Yes, certainly. They were always at one point thought to be fairly benign because they did a service to the clams and oyster beds by serving to clean the ocean. But yes, there is more and more controversy now because more and more beaches are being taken over by aquiculture leases and that doesn’t exactly make a fun beach to hang out on if they’re oyster shells sticking up.
B: Come to a topic with an open mind. I’ve been trying to have one for the last five years on this topic and I’m not in love with a farmed salmon. But I’m also not afraid to eat it. I think it serves a purpose. It might even take some pressure off the wild stocks if you think about it. Is that your conclusion pretty much?
P: It’s interesting that a lot of the opposition to salmon farming comes from the commercial sector. It’s a little ironic that the way to protect our wild salmon is to catch them. Doesn’t seem to make sense to me how that works.
B: I would have thought at one point that it would make some sense to depend, from a commercial prospective, to a degree on farmed salmon, so you can leave the wild stocks more for the sports fishing industry, which is about 10 times more lucrative for the economy. And it’s not a panacea, its not all good, but isn’t there common sense to that, isn’t there?
P: Yeah, there certainly is. I think if we really wanted to protect our salmon and our fisheries on this west coast we would shut them down for 4 or 5 years, get a couple cycles in there where we don’t touch any of those fish, bring them all back and see where we’re at.
P: Now I’ll get in big trouble for saying that, but certainly we’re not having much luck restoring our wild stocks here.
Raincoast Chronicles 23 (Harbour $24.95)
from BCBW (Autumn)
Painfully shy, benignly good-natured, and embarrassed by facial disfigurement dating back to a childhood injury in England, Fred Tibbs was one of Tofino’s best-known eccentrics.
He settled at Long Bay (Long Beach) in 1908, and later moved to his Dream Isle, off Tofino, where he clear-cut the island and erected a three-story wooden castle.
Most famously, Tibbs left only one tree in the centre of the island, an enormous spruce that he topped at 100 feet. Every morning Fred Tibbs would climb to the platform with his cornet and serenade Tofino with tunes.
Here’s an excerpt from Raincoast Chronicles 23 (Harbour $24.95), a collection of stories and history culled from forty years worth of West Coast titles from Harbour Publishing.
Edited by Peter Robson, this ‘best of’ compendium could easily compete for the title of The Least Boring Book Ever Published in B.C.