Ecotourism operators urge the provincial gov’t to protect wild salmon

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Atlantic salmon being raised at a B.C. fish farm. Photograph By Marine Harvest Canada

Over 75 business owners have signed an open letter to provincial ministers calling for the government to protect wild salmon from diseases spread by open net-pen fish farms.

In the letter, the groups express concern about Piscine Orthoreovirus, which they claim is spreading from open-net fish farms to wild salmon impeding their ability to migrate and spawn.

K’odi Nelson and Jared Towers of Alert Bay reached out to ecotourism companies, sport fishing operators, lodge, inn, resort and hotels along the B.C. coast for their support.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re doing bird counts, grizzly viewing or sport fishing, the loss of wild fish stocks is devastating. We’ve seen the fish just disappear from places where they’ve always been plentiful, leaving the bears to starve,” says Nelson.

The business owners want the government to:

  • Enact a coast-wide moratorium on new fish farms, to not renew expiring permits, and to freeze production levels at existing fish farms.
  • Support the creation of an independent scientific advisory panel with full and unrestricted access to government and industry fish health data and science.
  • Assess the status of all BC wild salmon populations and their habitats and implement rebuilding plans without delay.
  • Use a mix of federal and provincial government funding and incentives to promote investment and innovation towards facilitating an immediate transition to a land-based closed containment fish farming in B.C.

The letter is addressed to Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Doug Donaldson, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, Environment Minister George Heyman and Liberal MP Terry Beech.

There are 20 fish farm tenures that are up for renewal as of June 20 in the Broughton Archipelago but owner Marine Harvest says the farms will likely continue operating on a month-to-month basis.

The company’s spokesman Jeremy Dunn says the Land Act requires the government to give the company 60 days notice in advance of eviction, which it has not done.

Indigenous leaders have said the farms are operating in their traditional territories without their permission while others have spoken out in favour of the employment fish farms create.

About 20 per cent of the industry’s workforce is of First Nations heritage, according to the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

Shawn Hall of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, says the industry has invested in programs to protect wild salmon populations and “provide an alternate source of this important food, which reduces pressure on overfishing for wild stocks.”

Hall says research is being conducted into the potential to using closed containment systems for farming either on land or water but “there isn’t a single successful commercial-scale operation anywhere in the world” and mandating that “would effectively shut the industry down.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan recently announced the creation of the Wild Salmon Advisory Council to develop a strategy for restoring and sustaining B.C.’s wild salmon stocks.