British Columbia’s minister in charge of aquaculture tenures for the province is hinting at a major change in the provincial government’s approach to Atlantic salmon farming in Pacific waters.
“Here in British Columbia, the vast majority of First Nations are very clear in their opposition to the operation of open net-cage fish farms,” said Bob Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, reports CTV News.
Chamberlin added, “We welcome the Washington state decision and certainly are going to be pushing for the British Columbia government to do the same and look after this world resource of Pacific salmon.” He also feels that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is disregarding what is supposed to be a precautionary principle under the Fisheries Act,
“It’s time for the precautionary principle to be made real, stood up, embraced, and then enacted, and look to see this industry evolve, like every other industry has, to land-based closed containment,” he said.
BC salmon farmers say Washington overreacted
The fish farm at the center of the Washington State legislation is located near the San Juan Islands and is owned by Cooke Aquaculture, the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the United States. An estimated 305,000 fish escaped from open-net enclosures last summer, which the company said was due to “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with that week’s solar eclipse.”
Not only did the company express disappointment in the passing of the legislation, but so did industry advocates in British Columbia. “We think this is a decision based on emotion stemming from a major incident in the summer,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
“We think a better approach would have been to strengthen regulations and allow the operator to invest significantly in their operations.” That being said, Dunn added that B.C.’s fish farming industry is very different from Washington’s.
“Our members have invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years on new pen equipment, new netting equipment, and new marine designs to ensure that our farms are able to withstand the highest seas and the highest currents at every location that they’re sited,” he said.
He added that fewer than 100 fish escape from all farms in British Columbia each year, a number he says has “no impact” on the local environment. And while Atlantic salmon can’t breed with salmon species in the Pacific, they can transmit an array of diseases to the wild fish they come in contact with when they escape.
In May 2016, the deadly viral disease, Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) that proved to be devastating to Norwegian salmon farmers in the 1990s was found by federal scientists in farmed salmon in British Columbia.
Going back to January 2016, a study of farm-raised salmon in British Columbia found a European variant of a deadly disease called infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAV) had been found. But while the CFIA has held off in declaring the virus to be present in Canada’s Pacific coast waters, this latest study does ratchet up the concern that not only Canadian salmon farms are at serious risk, but also Washington state salmon farms.
The B.C. government very interested in land-based fish farming
Yesterday, CBC News reported that B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says the province wants to move Atlantic salmon fish farming toward land-based production.
Doug Donaldson, the B.C. minister of Forest, Land and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said the B.C. government can’t ban open-net aquaculture like the state of Washington did because they are regulated by the federal government.
But Donaldson pointed out that tenures for 22 fish farms in the province were coming up for renewal in June, and he said: “the provincial government’s vision for the future includes moving them out of the ocean and into land-based operations, wherever possible.”
“We’re very concerned as a government about protecting wild salmon and the migratory routes that they use and we’re very interested in moving to closed containment where feasible,” Donaldson said in an interview with On the Island host Gregor Craigie.
Donaldson also cited “government to government” discussions about the future of the 18 fish-farm tenures in the Broughton Archipelago which are hotly opposed by five bands representing six First Nations with traditional territories in that area.
The thing is, land-based aquaculture is a growing industry in many parts of the world, including one of the world’s largest, under construction in Florida. It is estimated to be 70 to 300 times larger than the Namgis First Nation’s closed-containment salmon farm on Vancouver Island. The Nangis fish farm harvests about five tons of salmon every week.
We will have to revisit this story as the tenures come up for renewal later this year.