The Atlantic Salmon Federation stands by its allegation that taxpayers have paid the regional salmon farming industry more than $100 million in compensation for having to destroy diseased fish.
"We think it's an underestimate," association vice-president Sue Scott said Tuesday in an interview from Saint Andrews, N.B.
The federation has launched a media campaign, including full-page newspaper ads, which allege the federal government and the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have paid open-pen salmon farmers at least $100 million in compensation between 1996 and 2012 for having to destroy more than 10 million fish infected with infectious salmon anemia.
Scott said the federation, which sees open-pen salmon farms as a threat to the revival of regional wild salmon stocks and to the marine environment in general, had a difficult time compiling its compensation figures.
"It was very hard to get," she said, while suggesting that the compensation numbers aren't something governments want the public to know.
"We spent time going through (federal) government and provincial records," she said.
The federation said in 1996-1997 the aquaculture industry received $40.5 million in federal and New Brunswick government compensation following the first government-ordered kill of disease-infected salmon.
It said Ottawa and New Brunswick paid another $25 million to the salmon farming industry in 1999 under disaster financial assistance arrangements.
In 2006, the federation said the federal fisheries department, after two years of negotiations, contributed another $10 million to cover losses from the disease.
It estimated that governments paid $7 million in compensation to the salmon farming industry in 2007 and $26 million in 2012, when New Brunswick's Cooke Aquaculture was recompensed for infectious salmon anemia-related kills at its Nova Scotia operations.
Scott said government compensation for destroying diseased fish doesn't encourage good animal husbandry.
And she thought the recent Canadian Food Inspection Agency decision to allow salmon farmers to process and market infectious salmon anemia-infected salmon, which aren't considered a threat to human health, might be part of an effort to avoid paying compensation to the industry.
Scott said the federation's public awareness campaign has received a lot of feedback on Facebook and Twitter.
And while it hasn't all been supportive, she said no one, including government and farmed salmon officials, has questioned the federation's compensation numbers.
"We've never had any reaction from industry saying it's wrong," Scott said.
Pam Parker, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association, said she didn't know where the federation got its numbers.
"I don't have that information," she said Tuesday.
Parker said government compensation for fish kills is similar to that given to beef and chicken farmers for animal culls.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada referred questions on the issue to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Agency spokeswoman Elena Koutsavakis said it had no information about compensation paid to fish farms prior to January 2011, when it became responsible for responding to federally reportable aquatic animal diseases.
"Prior to that, the responsibility rested with either the province or the private sector," she said.
Scott said the federation, which advocates land-based fish farms, was encouraged by the Nova Scotia government's decision to review fish farm regulations.