(Black Press Media file)

LETTER: On the future of salmon farming in B.C.

Ecologists have been sounding the alarm for decades

This election marks a watershed moment for protecting wild Pacific salmon.

For the first time ever, three political parties have pledged to transition open net pen fish farms on the B.C. coast to completely closed (likely land based) systems. Environmental sensibility and ecological responsibility are winning out over a regime where predominantly Norwegian multinationals come to our waters to pollute for free.

The science is increasingly clear: open net pen farming is harmful to wild salmon and presents unacceptable risk to a keystone species and everyone and everything that rely on it. When the two populations (farmed Atlantic/wild Pacific salmon) occupy the same seawater, but are separated only by a net, parasites and viruses pass freely from farmed to wild fish.

The waste from the farms creates a dead zone on the ocean floor much larger than the surface footprint of the farm itself. Sea lice which breed in unnaturally large numbers on the farms attach to out-migrating wild smolts, before those smolts have grown protective scales, and literally eat the smolts alive; and net pen farms incubate and amplify viruses such as Piscine Orthoreovirus which causes jaundice and anemia in wild Pacific salmon, notably including our endangered Chinook.

Ecologists have been sounding the alarm for decades and in 2012, the federally appointed Cohen Commission found that “the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible.”

Justice Cohen further stated that the precautionary principle (enacted in the 1990s after we obliterated the Cod in Atlantic Canada) requires removal of open net pen salmon farms from the B.C. coast unless firm new evidence can be provided refuting evidence of the harm they cause.

Salmon farmers tend to blame disastrously low salmon returns on global warming. We partially agree – global warming has put our salmon under serious stress. But it is asking far too much to require wild salmon to swim up-river in debilitating hot water, and then add, “By the way, you have to do this while suffering from a serious blood disease”.

B.C. has more at risk than Atlantic Canada and all other salmon farming jurisdictions: we have millions of Atlantic salmon in open pens on the migratory routes of wild Pacific salmon. Recognizing this risk, the B.C. Provincial government has said it will not renew or issue new farm tenures after 2021 unless the fish farmers can prove “no harm” to wild Pacific salmon- something we don’t think they can do.

Finally, we are seeing action.

Predictably, the fish farming multinationals much prefer the status quo (it’s hard to beat “pollute for free”) and so they call the new policy direction “alarming”, “reckless” or “not feasible”. The usual arguments follow: “inconclusive science” (reminiscent of the tobacco industry tactics of bygone days); sustainable aquaculture isn’t technically or commercially viable (like Detroit on electric cars just a few years ago) – and on and on.

But we differ from them. Global venture capital is excited by and committed for this new, clean, green, truly sustainable form of aquaculture, which keeps wild, and farmed fish separate, and that operates in recirculating systems on land. In fact, the build up is happening now. B.C. has many natural advantages, but we if we dither for much longer we risk being left behind.

No one is advocating an end to aquaculture in B.C. but rather an end to an old technology that pollutes our ocean for free. The annual Gross Revenue to B.C. from all of the 115+ net pen tenures is less than $2 million – the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria per farm site. And the employment provided by open net farming in B.C. is substantially less than the employment provided by the wild salmon economy which includes sports fishing, commercial fishing and processing and tourism – all of which depend on the survival of wild salmon.

All industries have to evolve. Let’s get going on clean, green, truly sustainable aquaculture, which can grow in B.C. We know from our polling that the vast majority of British Columbians are very supportive of a responsible transition of this industry. Let’s transition the pens, retrain employees, and put incentives in place to site sustainable farms in the same communities that currently supply these workers. We hope to be on the verge of sprouting a better industry that’s higher tech and higher value, protects and upgrades jobs, and protects a threatened iconic species. It’s a win-win-win.

Tony Allard, President of Hearthstone Investments Ltd.

Michael Audain, O.B.C. O.C. Chairman, Audain Foundation.

Ross Beaty, O.C. Chair, Pan American Silver Corp, President, Sitka Foundation.

Stuart Belkin, Chairman & CEO Belkorp Industries Inc.

Karen Flavelle, CEO, Purdys Chocolatier.

Robert Foord, Vernon B.C.

Rick Hansen, O.B.C. O.C. Founder of Rick Hansen Foundation

Carol Anne Hilton, MBA CEO and Founder of The Indigenomics Institute.

Dave Lede, Chairman and CEO

Carol Lee, Vancouver.

Peter Leitch.

Phil Lind, O.C., Vice- Chair Rogers.

Brandt C. Louie, O.B.C. Chair and CEO H.Y. Louie Co.

Stuart McLaughlin, CEO Higher Ground Holdings.

Tracey McVicar, Partner, CAI Capital Partners.

Willie Mitchell, President | Partner, Tofino Resort + Marina. Tofino, BC.

Ryan Peterson, CEO and Co-Founder of Finger Food Advanced Technology Group

Cathy Roozen O.C., A.O.E.. Edmonton.

JR Shaw, O.C., A.O.E.. Calgary/Victoria.

Holly Vear, Victoria, Lawyer, Woodward & Co.

Roy Henry Vickers, O.C. O.B.C.. Kispiox, BC.

Tamara Vrooman, President & CEO of Vancity.

Mandy Wesley, Haida Gwaii.

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