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Canadians love salmon but are misinformed about its production and concerned about its cost

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By Milthon Lujan

by Alison Auld, Dalhousie University 
A majority of Canadians enjoy eating salmon but roughly half are misinformed about the various methods used to cultivate the species, according to a new report by Dalhousie researchers who surveyed people across the country about their consumption habits.

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Caddle, polled 10,000 Canadians last June to better understand how people perceive salmon production methods, how often they eat the fish and if they preferred certain species.

Researchers wanted to get a sense of how much Canadians know about salmon production and choices since the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the federal government is considering the fate of open ocean pens for salmon production in B.C.

The researchers found that a total of 79 per cent of Canadians do eat salmon, with 10 per cent of those eating salmon weekly. A total of 54 per cent believe that aquaculture is a sustainable way to harvest salmon in Canada. When assessing people’s perception related to salmon and the two main production methods — oceans pens and land-based farms -— Canadians appear to support ocean farm production.

Nonetheless, the results suggest that 50 per cent of respondents misunderstand what land-based and ocean farm means. Ocean-based production involves salmon being hatched in tanks on land and then moved into pens in the ocean, where they grow to about three kilograms. With land-based farms, salmon are reared entirely in tanks on land.

The importance of science-based data

The findings come as the federal government decides its next steps after announcing last year that there would be a transition away from open net-pen farms in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025. The decision has sparked debate over whether that could limit the opportunity for aquaculture pens to operate along Canadian coastlines.

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Stefanie Colombo, lead researcher for the project and Canada Research Chair in Aquaculture Nutrition at Dalhousie, says the survey results reveal how confused and misinformed Canadians are about salmon production and how important science-based data are in shaping opinion.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion around how salmon are raised in ocean farms, but it appears Canadians see them as a very sustainable method of production, in addition to land-based production,” says Dr. Colombo.

“Exclusion of ocean net-pen farming in the future eliminates the opportunity for sustainable use of our coastline in appropriate areas for food production. Both production models will continue to improve and evolve to produce sustainable, nutritious salmon for all Canadians.”

A total of 21 per cent of Canadians prefer salmon raised on a land-based farm and 39 per cent prefer an ocean farm as a method of production.

The affodability factor

Personal income also appears to play a role in the decision to eat salmon. People who earn more than $75,000 a year are more likely to eat salmon once a month or more compared to those who earn less, making salaries a significant determinant when looking at salmon consumption in Canada. Price is an issue for 11 per cent of Canadians, while five per cent of Canadians do not buy salmon due to the perception that they contain chemicals or parasites.

About 44 per cent of Canadians will eat salmon at home than the eight per cent who would order it at a restaurant. When asked why they do not eat salmon, 42 per cent cited taste as the reason, while 30 per cent said they do not eat any kind of fish.

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When it came to production methods, 49 per cent of Canadians say they prefer wild salmon and 42 per cent had no preference. A total of 62 per cent indicated they want to eat salmon produced in a natural habitat. About 29 per cent believe wild salmon to be more nutritious, even though recent research suggests otherwise.

Land-based farming is considered by some to be a more expensive method of production for salmon farming.

“If we motivate the industry to produce more salmon using land-based farms, we could potentially make salmon less affordable in the immediate future for a growing number of Canadians,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie.

“Salmon is very much part of Canada’s new Food Guide, so affordability should be a priority.”

Download Report here

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