About the Industry

In Canada, the majority of salmon farms are found in British Columbia and New Brunswick with recent expansion in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

In British Columbia, Norwegian corporations control 92% of all salmon farms.

Company Headquarters Licences % of BC Industry
Marine Harvest Norway 75 55%
Mainstream (Cermaq) Norway 33 24%
Grieg Seafood Norway 17 13%
Creative Salmon Canada 6 4%

The 2007 merger of Norwegian-owned PanFish with global giant Marine Harvest created the largest salmon aquaculture company in the world.

Foreign-Owned Companies Prove Little Benefit for BC

Profits are more likely to leave the province when foreign multinationals control a domestic industry. BC loses out on many economic benefits such as having a head office in BC, investment in city centers, high-level job opportunities for British Columbians and income tax from companies’ highest income earners because 90% of the industry in the province is foreign-owned.1

Salmon aquaculture companies operating in BC waters apparently prefer to avoid any mention of foreign ownership. For instance, a radio advertising campaign run by one Norwegian-owned multinational farming in BC waters identifies them as “a local salmon farming company”. These transnational corporations may be operating on the BC coast, but their shareholders and final management authority are firmly planted in foreign soil.

Salmon farming industry perpetuates the jobs myth, pointing to job creation in coastal communities as the major benefit to B.C. But the claim is often exaggerated.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), for instance, claims salmon farming generates 6,000 jobs on the BC coast. But an independent economic analysis, commissioned by the Provincial Legislature’s Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture and conducted by MMK Consulting in 2007 put the total at only 2,900 jobs. That figure includes direct jobs (in aquaculture), indirect (jobs in supply or service firms) and induced benefits that arise when money made by direct or indirect employees is spent in the BC economy. Their total is less than half of the jobs the industry claims to generate.

Marine Harvest

Marine Harvest headquartered in Oslo, Norway, produces one-third of the world’s farmed salmon and trout and has operations in 20 countries. Marine Harvest now controls 55% of all salmon farming on the BC coast.

Marine Harvest farms salmon in BC, Norway, Chile, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark (the Faroe Islands) and also has processing facilities in Belgium, Spain, France, and the Netherlands.

Ironically, a 2007 “Report to Communities” in BC from Marine Harvest Canada notes BC farm production “will continue to be challenged by competition from Chile….”, but fails to point out that competition comes, to a great degree, from Marine Harvest’s own Chilean operations. However, massive disease outbreaks spreading through Chilean salmon farms has resulted in Marine Harvest Chile laying off over 1,000 farm and plant workers and putting the Chinquihue salmon processing plant in Puerto Montt, Chile up for sale.

CAAR-Marine Harvest Canada Dialogue

In 2006, as part of our efforts to work with industry to seek solutions, the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform and Marine Harvest Canada completed a “Framework for Dialogue”. The dialogue intends to foster collaborative efforts toward resolving the contentious issues surrounding open net-cage salmon farming and seek common ground on solutions such as closed containment. The Dialogue has prioritized five joint sea lice research initiatives and a closed containment study and work is underway to identify and contract researchers to carry out the collaborative analyses. Learn more about CAAR’s work with Marine Harvest.

Mainstream Canada (Cermaq)

Mainstream Canada is BC’s second largest producer of farmed salmon. Mainstream is part of the Norwegian-owned Cermaq Group, which has salmon farming operations in Scotland, Norway, Chile, and Canada.

Mainstream continues to grow. In 2000, Mainstream/Cermaq purchased BC’s Pacific National Group, and Prime Pacific Seafarms. In 2005, it bought out the Canadian-owned Heritage salmon farms. As Cermaq expands by buying Canadian-owned businesses, Canadians lose control and profits. Cermaq’s largest shareholder is the government of Norway, which owns 43.54%. As a result, both CAAR and the US-based Pure Salmon campaign have appealed to Cermaq’s shareholders.

The Cermaq Group also includes the world’s largest manufacturer of fish feed for commercial fish farms, Ewos Innovations. Ewos has salmonid feed mills in Scotland, Norway, Chile, and Canada. Ewos was convicted three times in six years for harmful fish oil spills in BC coastal waters. Combined, over 5,225 kg of fish oil was spilled into ocean habitat and spawning grounds. Also, residents near the Ewos fish feed plant in Surrey, BC complained to Greater Vancouver Regional District in 2003 about excessive odour emissions.

A Raincoast Conservation Society report, released in December 2004, noted that Mainstream/Cermaq operations had been charged with more government fines than any other fish farm corporation operating in BC. In 2002, one of Cermaq’s subsidiaries was charged with 19 counts of provincial regulatory violations—mostly due to the company’s lack of prevention of fish escapes in 2001 and 2002.

In April 2007, filmmaker Twyla Roscovich, while investigating a report of a harbour porpoise and a Pacific white-sided dolphin becoming entangled in the predator net of Mainstream/Cermaq’s Wehlis Bay salmon farm, found a Stellar sea lion. The sea lion (a species listed as of ‘special concern’ under Canada’s Species at Risk Act) became entangled and drowned in the underwater nets. Mainstream/Cermaq reported that the porpoise and dolphin had drowned but were unable to recover the carcasses. The company denied the death of the sea lion until confronted with Roscovich’s film footage. See www.callingfromthecoast.com to view the video blog.

Mainstream’s Dismal Record in Clayoquot Sound

In 2000, the same year that Clayoquot Sound was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Cermaq (Mainstream Canada) began operations in Clayoquot Sound when it bought companies operating there. Cermaq continues to operate 14 open net-cage sites, of which 8 to 10 are active at any given time.

In the years since 2000, Mainstream’s salmon farms have posed major threats to the Clayoquot Sound ecosystem, including the following:

  • In 2001, a toxic plankton bloom inside the net-cage of the Bedwell Sound farm, believed to be caused by the fish’s decaying sewage, resulted in the deaths of approximately 80,000 Atlantic salmon. That is two hundred tonnes of dead fish floating in yellow sludge. This massive loss came 1 month after an escape of Atlantic salmon at the same farm.
  • In January 2002, there was an escape of approximately 8,000 Atlantic salmon into Pacific waters from Mainstream’s Saranac Island farm. Two months later, an outbreak of the Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN) virus was confirmed at the company’s Mussel Rock farm. This outbreak was the first of its kind on a salmon farm on the West coast of Vancouver Island.
  • In 2002 and 2003, the BC government issued 100 non-compliance notices to Cermaq/Mainstream’s salmon farm operations in Clayoquot Sound. These notices were for such infractions as the failure to report escapes, mass mortalities, overstocking, failure to keep drug records, and poor maintenance.
  • In January 2003, Cermaq pleaded guilty to 11 charges of violating the BC Fisheries Act. The charges included dangerous overstocking at multiple farms in Clayoquot Sound.
  • As of March 2003, the IHN virus had infected at least 5 of Cermaq’s farms in the Sound. Disease problems in Cermaq’s salmon farms led to more than a year of inactivity by the company in Clayoquot Sound.
  • At Cermaq’s Saranac Island farm, an unknown number of Atlantic salmon escaped in September 2007, when a net-cage containing 20,000 fish was ripped during harvesting.

Mainstream (Cermaq) and Worker’s Rights

An investigation in 2001 by the Chilean government agency responsible for monitoring labor law found Mainstream Chile, the Chilean subsidiary of Norwegian-based Cermaq, guilty of a series of labor violations.

Since 2002, Mainstream Chile has been fined at least 13 times for:

  • failure to issue protective equipment to employees,
  • failure to give workers employment contracts,
  • requiring seven-day work weeks, and
  • illegally suspending Mainstream Chile’s first legally elected union leader.

In a report to the company, Chile’s labor inspector wrote that the violations cited revealed a “high degree of unreliability in Mainstream.” The Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet went further, alleging that Mainstream was responsible for “persecution of union members, breaches of the law, safety discrepancies and fatalities.” Among its allegations:

  • a young worker miscarried after being required to take an 11-hour night shift—in violation of Chilean law concerning treatment of pregnant employees,
  • a diver died due to lax safety standards.

In 2008, Cermaq’s Chilean production expectations were lowered by 22% due to the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) outbreak. According to a company statement, “Operating conditions in Chile for the rest of 2008 are very uncertain due to the relatively high levels of disease affecting production.” Other reported concerns include an outbreak of the disease Salmonid Rickettsial Septicemai (SRS) and problems with amoeba that are leading to increased mortalities and lowered average harvest weights.

Grieg Seafood

Grieg Seafood ASA is a Norwegian owned fish farming company, specializing in open net-cage production of salmon and trout. Grieg Group is the parent company, a family-owned enterprise renowned as one of the world’s largest industrial shipping companies. Grieg Seafood has operations in Norway, British Columbia and in Shetland (UK), employing approximately 410 people in their entire global operations.

Grieg Seafood bought out Canadian-owned Target Marine Group’s coastal salmon farming sites and processing facility in early 2007. The acquisition nearly doubled its number of salmon farm licenses. Greig operates open net-cage salmon farms on BC’s Sunshine Coast on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and in the sensitive wild samon migratory routes of the Broughton Archipelago and Discovery Islands.

The company presently has 18 grow-out licenses and about 120 employees, including part time help.

In one of the largest escape events reported in BC, Grieg Seafood lost approximately 33,000 farmed Atlantic salmon in 2004 on the West coast of Vancouver Island. In 2007, two sites in BC were affected by algae blooms and low oxygen levels.

In March 2008, Intrafish Media reported that Grieg Seafood was fined 1 million Norwegian Kroner (€123,835/$195,632) by a Norwegian court, after 54,000 salmon escaped from a fish farm at Erfjord in July 2005. On appealing the ruling, Norwegian state prosecuting authority Okokrim has called for a heavier fine for what it sees is a clear breach of environmental law. Grieg Seafood has also appealed the ruling, claiming the escapes are due to forces of nature and poor weather conditions.

Creative Salmon Company Ltd.

Creative Salmon raises chinook (king) salmon in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Clayoquot Sound. Creative produces 5% of the BC’s farmed salmon.

Many sea lions have died in Creative Salmon’s open net-cages. In just the first four months of 2007, 110 sea lions died at Creative’s salmon farms, including 51 California sea lions found entangled and drowned in a Creative Salmon farm site in Tofino Inlet. In 2006, 46 sea lions were reported drowned in Creative’s nets. Because fish-farm operators are not required to report accidental entanglements, the exact number of marine mammals that die in fish farm nets is unknown.

In 2000, a mass grave of more than 15 sea lions was found in Tofino Inlet. The sea lions were confirmed to have been shot by employees at the Creative Salmon farms. Fish farms often obtain a license to dispatch marine mammals that threaten the fish in their net-pens.

Creative has been cited numerous times for non-compliance with regulations. In 2003, BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection sited Creative Salmon with non-compliance violations at 3 of its 4 active farms in Clayoquot Sound. The infractions included disposal of net waste, fuel storage and containment, and site registration. And also in 2003, BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries cited Creative with non-compliance violations of site configuration and/or biomass at three of its farms. In 2002, the same government agency reported 9 cases of non-compliance at Creative’s farms, including a failure to report escapes at its Eagle Bay site.


1 December 2006 Marine Fin Fish Licenses, BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

Marshall, D. (2003). Fishy Business. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“Cermaq chairman failed to mention violations,” Intrafish, December 5, 2003, Dagbladet, June 2003.

S. Cox. (2004). Diminishing returns—an investigation into the five multinational corporations that control British Columbia’s salmon farming industry. Raincoast Conservation Society.