First Nations, Other Groups Unite on Fish Farm Concerns

(Nanaimo, Jan. 21, 1997) As the public review that may determine the future of salmon farming in BC enters its final phase, representatives of virtually all sectors other than government agencies, salmon farming and related industries have come out strongly in favour of sweeping changes for the industry in BC.

“This review could have profound implications for resource users up and down the whole BC coast, including First Nations, commercial and sport fishers, tourism operators and all our coastal communities,” said Laurie MacBride of the Georgia Strait Alliance.

Native and non-native groups represented on the Salmon Aquaculture Review (SAR) Committee have united around a call for retaining the current moratorium until changes are implemented, including:

  • replacing netpens with closed containment systems in order to end problems of fish farm waste, escaped fish and predators (with many calling for a move to land-based tanks);
  • prohibiting the use of Atlantic salmon;
  • banning the use of acoustic deterrent devices, explosives and firearms to harass or kill marine mammals;
  • banning the use of night lights, which attract wild species into netpens as feed;
  • prompt relocation of farms that are in environmentally sensitive zones;
  • mandatory labeling of farmed fish;
  • mandatory reporting of disease outbreaks and drug use on farmed fish;
  • removing of aquaculture from the new Farm Practices Protection Act (the Act effectively removes the right of local governments to control noise, odours, discharge of firearms and other complaints about fish farms);
  • a mandatory resource rent or levies for monitoring and enforcement;
  • banning genetically-altered fish.

“There is overwhelming evidence that salmon farming could be risking the health of wild salmon and other species, “ said Will Soltau of the Pacific Trollers Association. The use of antibiotics in the marine environment, the risk of disease transfer to wild fish and the impacts of salmon farm wastes have all been raised as important issues in the review.

In addition, many have expressed concerns about human health impacts of salmon farming, especially on native people who are highly dependent on marine resources for food. “The issue for us is about home, about how we’re dying,” said Chief Simon Lucas of the BC Aboriginal Fisheries Commission. “If you affect in any way the clams and the other marine life, you’re going to affect us.”

The health impacts issue came to a head a few days ago at the final public meeting of the SAR in Campbell River, when the BC Salmon Farmers Association refused to release records of disease outbreaks and drugs used on farm fish despite repeated requests by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) and members of the SAR.

“Just what are they trying to hide?” asked Karen Wristen of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “They are holding onto critical information and stonewalling the whole process.”

The broad alliance of SAR members calling for changes includes: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Kwakiutl Territorial Fisheries Commission, Ahousat First Nation, Kwagiulth District Council, Musgamagw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council, Georgia Strait Alliance, Greenpeace, United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (Sointula local), Pacific Trollers Association, Steelhead Society of BC, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, Area J representative of Comox-Strathcona Regional District and Wave-Length Paddling Magazine. In addition, the recommendations are being supported by a number of groups not represented on the SAR, including the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC, David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of Clayoquot Sound and Alberni Environmental Coalition. Whale researcher and author Alexandra Morton, a Broughton Archipelago resident who has been studying salmon farming for the past five years, says she believes the recommendations are also supported by “the vast majority of those who live and work on the coast.”

The Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) will now sift through all of the public submissions and recommendations and come up with its draft options and recommendations, which the Review Committee will discuss in early April. The EAO’s final report and recommendations will go to Cabinet in June.