Ending ban on new salmon farms short-sighted, groups say

For immediate release April 29, 2002

VANCOUVER – The provincial government is ignoring new science and the effects of disease outbreaks at salmon farms by lifting the seven-year ban on establishing new farms off the BC coast, say groups representing First Nations, sports and commercial fishermen and conservationists.

The government cites the 1997 Salmon Aquaculture Review (SAR) as approving expansion of the industry. However only a handful of the report’s 49 recommendations have been implemented, calling into question the government decision, says Dr. John Volpe, the leading scientist examining the effects of the industry in BC.

“From the outset the SAR was very controversial among researchers,” said Dr. Volpe, a University of Alberta professor who conducts his research in BC.

“It was based on outdated, foreign experiences and I know scientists who refused to participate or serve on the review panel because they felt the terms of reference were designed to reach a predetermined outcome. But even if you accept the SAR’s findings, it only gave a cautious nod to expansion if the 49 recommendations were implemented. So far only six have been,” he said.

Government agencies have failed to keep pace as new threats are uncovered, like sea lice outbreaks, and the SAR recommendations were based on 1995 production levels which have since doubled, he added. There are 124 licenses for net-cage salmon farm sites, or floating feedlots, in BC.

“This decision is based on flawed information and the government refuses to look at new science, which is very disturbing,” said Laurie MacBride, speaking for a coalition of conservation groups.

“The new provincial regulations are weak and enforcement is almost nil. There are only six inspectors for the entire coast, which is not enough for the existing industry let alone expansion,” said MacBride who resigned from the provincial Salmon Aquaculture Implementation Advisory Committee because of the moratorium ended.

The BC Aboriginal Fisheries Commission also denounced having new salmon farms in First Nations traditional territories.

“This government is hell-bent on giving away the rights and title of First Nations for the sake of short-term revenue – revenue that may not even be going to Coastal People,” said Arnie Narcisse, chair of the BC Aboriginal Fisheries Commission.

“First Nations culture – our songs, dances and traditions – are built around our relationship with wild salmon. Salmon farming threatens our very existence as a people,” he added.

Sports and commercial fishermen are also concerned about the threat that farmed stock, which are mostly introduced Atlantic salmon, pose to wild Pacific stocks.

“Wild BC salmon provide emotional, economic and spiritual revenue to the world. Sportfishers have been witness to the tragedy of decimated wild salmon populations in Europe as a result of salmon farming practices and are extremely concerned about the effects of the ill-informed decision to lift the moratorium on salmon farming expansion in British Columbia,” said Scott Baker-McGarva, president of the BC Steelhead Society.

For years, commercial fishermen have been catching escaped farm salmon with the numbers increasing every year.

“Commercial fishermen are extremely angry that the province would move to expand the salmon farming industry without putting in place proper safeguards to protect wild salmon,” said Garth Mirau, vice-president, United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union-CAW.

“Disease and sea lice from salmon farms could easily wipe out some significant wild salmon runs that commercial fishermen and coastal communities depend on.

“The provincial government is abandoning fishermen and coastal communities by lifting the moratorium on new salmon farm sites without implementing the recommendations of its own environmental review of salmon farming impacts,” he said.

Government cutbacks also mean the industry will be virtually self-regulated, “turning the hen house over to the fox,” said MacBride.

“Despite this short-sighted and ill-informed government decision, we will continue to fight the expansion of net-cage fish farming, even if we have to do it by opposing every new site application on the coast,” she said.

Countless British Columbians from all walks of life and all regions of the province have written to the provincial and federal governments opposing new salmon farms until technology is used that prevents escapes and waste from entering the marine environment.