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Salmon farming is too big to fail

Opponents hoping to stop the industry lost the fight long ago.

You could argue that salmon farming opponents have had a run of successes over the past year. After all, they succeeded in shutting down Washington's salmon farming industry, getting celebrities to buzz British Columbia's salmon farms, and talking apparel giant Patagonia into launching a massive campaign against the sector.

But while these victories may grab the headlines for a news cycle or two, they've done little to stem the rising tide of production, profits and technological advancement in the sector.

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That couldn't be more apparent than this week. A fantastic analysis by my colleague Demi Korban of the market caps of the world's largest stock listed salmon farmers showed that combined, they account for a whopping $34 billion (€30.7 billion). Mowi, the world's largest salmon farmer, accounts for $12.9 billion (€11.6 billion) of that alone, and posted another record quarter of earnings this week. Though other Norwegian salmon shares took a beating after mixed results, it's a blip compared to the long steady bull run the companies have been on.

"Let's think of this time in the industry's life as its toddler stage: It's learning to walk, talk and reason. It does, however, occasionally soil its pants."

This week's AquaNor trade show is another sign of the industry's permanence and evolution. Arni Mathiesen, the assistant director general of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told me that his brief stroll around the show floor looking at the advancements in technology, fish health and sustainable production "amazed" him.

"People are still making fortunes in a short period of time in aquaculture," he remarked. "It's still cutting edge."

While the pending global protein gap and the sector's alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are familiar talking points at executive presentations, there's real truth to them. By almost all measures, it's becoming more and more clear that aquaculture is a far more sustainable protein than any other major farmed animal, and salmon leads the way.

Our Salmon Summit on Wednesday, which hosted, among other speakers the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate, also highlighted this rapid evolution, showing how companies and governments are taking risks to apply new technology allowing for salmon to be grown in new, unprecedented and more environmentally friendly ways.

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The threats facing agriculture, including disease, will always exist, but with salmon farming's ability to adapt so quickly, those threats can be much more easily mitigated. You can't grow chickens in an offshore cage, at least not profitably.

The salmon farming sector has a lot to learn, but it's history stretches back less than 50 years. Let's think of this time in the industry's life as its toddler stage: It's learning to walk, talk and reason. It does, however, occasionally soil its pants.

So, yes, companies will continue to make blunders that impact the environment and local residents -- not to mention the sector's reputation.

Criticism of the salmon farming industry can and should continue. Opposition breeds reform, and that push and pull is part of why salmon has embraced sustainability at such a shotgun pace.

But for those die-hard fighters that still think salmon farming can be stopped, the battle was lost years ago. The industry is here to stay, and is rapidly becoming one of the world's most important protein providers.

Email: drew.cherry@intrafish.com

Twitter: @drewcherry

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