Fish-farm Friends, Foes
by Jeff Rud, Times Colonist
The morning's first speaker accused the B.C. fish-farm industry of lying and described aquaculture practices in this province as a "global embarrassment.''
The next five presenters in a row spoke in favour of the industry. And one said his fish-farming company has fallen victim to misinformation by environmental groups.
This is the polarized world in which the provincial government's select standing committee on sustainable aquaculture operates. There is precious little middle ground when the subject is fish farms and their impact on wild salmon and the ocean environment.
Michael Price, a Saanich biologist who works for the Raincoast Conservation Society, led off yesterday's public hearing at the legislature by attacking industry and government claims that escapes of Atlantic farmed salmon have been cut to negligible numbers in the last few years.
Based on data from similar Norwegian operations, Price estimates that there are more than 200,000 escapes into B.C. waters each year. Atlantic salmon are now successfully spawning in B.C. rivers and taking over habitat desperately needed by wild salmon, he said.
Farmed salmon are also causing juvenile wild salmon to be infected by sea lice, which can be fatal, he said.
"They're not being honest,'' Price said of fish farms. "I'm saying we're being lied to. We're being lied to about parasite issues, sea lice loads, and it's a global embarrassment.''
But Tim Davies, senior regulatory affairs manager for Grieg Seafood B.C. in Campbell River, vehemently defended the industry and said his company, in particular, has fallen victim to the anti-aquaculture campaign.
"I would say that's the exact opposite of what's happening out at the farms,'' Davies said of Price's contentions.
"The farm staff are well aware of the importance of reporting every escape event, even when it's a possible escape event.
"Our regulations specify that we have to have nets to contain the smallest fish that we put to sea. And it's in our best interest to raise every single fish that we put to sea and get it to market. So I would disagree with that comment.''
Davies said Grieg recently had rezoning applications for two fish farms in Sunderland Channel denied by the Comox-Strathcona district because of the aquaculture committee's call for a moratorium on new farm approvals until its work concludes. Although government has not issued such a ban, Davies said the demand prompted a "backroom moratorium.''
He asked the NDP-dominated committee to formally rescind its demand for a moratorium. "Sitting here, right now, you have the opportunity to guarantee 150 jobs for the next two years [at the proposed farms],'' he said.
While Davies believes the industry already has rigorous regulations that are followed, Price said damage by fish farms in B.C. needs to be mitigated.
He wants to see farms along juvenile wild salmon migration routes "fallow" during these migrations to prevent the spread of sea lice to vulnerable wild stock. He also advocates a transfer to closed-containment pens on B.C. farms.
Price added that the industry should not be allowed to expand into the central-north coast area of B.C.
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