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China scoops BC fish farm technology

*this story was modified at 10:40 a.m. on September 10, 2009

After seven years in the making, technology developed to replace open-net salmon farms in B.C. has found a home – in China.

Vancouver Island-based Agrimarine Industries designed the technology, which replaces conventional net fish enclosures with buoyant fiberglass tanks. It will be used at a trout hatchery in a hydro reservoir in the Liang province of China. Agrimarine president Richard Buchanan is there this week to open the first of a potential eleven tanks.

The technology was initially designed for a salmon farm project in Middle Bay. The project was a partnership with the not-for-profit Middle Bay Sustainable Aquaculture Institute, which received funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Agrimarine faced difficulty securing further funding to build more tanks. That, plus a lengthy licensing process here, have prevented the project from moving forward, said Rob Walker, director of operations.

In China, Agrimarine found an investor willing to put up money for the first few tanks, lower labour costs and a government that "put out the red carpet."

"The Chinese government wanted to get a better production system for trout," Walker told The Tyee. "Right now it's mostly... ma and pa operations. They wanted to expand in an environmentally responsible manner."

Although Walker has said that, because ocean water is still pumped through the tank, this technology "doesn't directly address the issue of sea lice," it is considered less harmful to wild stocks than open-net farms.

In February, a government-appointed panel recommended that the province implement a commercial-scale trial of a closed containment system for farmed salmon in order to help protect wild salmon from infectious diseases.

Walker said he thinks there is too much red tape in British Columbia -- licensing here took two years compared to six weeks in China -- but said it's important from an environmental perspective. He pointed to the collapse of Chile's salmon farming industry as an example of unchecked industry.

"I'm so glad we do what we do here," said Walker. "We can't have that rampant commercialization of a resource that has no stops, no checks and balances."

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