Glacier News Service, 17 Jan 2014: Ottawa opens doors for fish farm expansion

Ottawa opens doors for fish farm expansion

Glacier News Service, Campbell River Courier Islander
JANUARY 17, 2014

The Harper government has quietly opened the door to a major expansion of B.C.’s fish farm sector despite warnings by the 2012 Cohen Commission about the effects of net-based farms on wild salmon.

The decision, revealed to fish farmers by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in October, was laid out in letters to several B.C. First Nations last week.

An official in Shea’s department said Wednesday that Ottawa has already received 13 applications for expansions or new farms.

Shea’s letter said applications will be accepted for everywhere except the Discovery Islands archipelago between Campbell River and the B.C. Mainland.

Justice Bruce Cohen’s 2012 report on the 2009 collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run urged Ottawa to maintain a ban on new farms in that archipelago.

Critics say the lifting of the 2011 moratorium violates the spirit of the Cohen report and could cause disaster for wild salmon stocks. And they condemned the lack of transparency by the government. DFO spokeswoman Melanie Carkner said Wednesday the government is reviewing nine applications to expand production at existing sites and two new sites, for a total increase of 16,640 tonnes of capacity. Tonnage refers to the peak weight of fish a farm is allowed to have in the water.

“All applications … will continue to be evaluated through the lens of environmental sustainability and engagement with First Nations and other stakeholders,” said Carkner, who added that Canada has “some of the strictest regulations” in the world.

The letter to First Nations last week refers to the first of the new applications.

Norwegian company Cermaq Canada Ltd. wants to dramatically expand capacity, to 460 tonnes from 10 tonnes, at its Cypress Harbour broodstock facility in the Broughton Archipelago, a fish farm-heavy area near the northeast end of Vancouver Island. Cypress Harbour provides eggs and sperm for fish farms and Cermaq says they want to move production to this site from other operations.

Shea’s letter said the government is not putting wild stocks at risk. “Our government is committed to protecting and conserving fish habitat in support of coastal and inland fisheries resources.”

But critics said Wednesday Shea’s decision overlooks Cohen’s warning about the risks of fish farms, a warning that applies to all B.C. salmon stocks even though the judge was limited to making recommendations relating to the Fraser sockeye.

“The decision to expand destructive aquaculture practices anywhere along B.C.’s coast is a huge betrayal of the concerns raised in the Cohen inquiry,” said Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director Craig Orr.

“They’re not applying the principles in Cohen that led to that moratorium (for the Discovery Islands) to our territories,” said Chief Councillor Bob Chamberlain of the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, based on Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago.

Orr noted that coho and especially young pinks and chums are far less mature than the Fraser River sockeye when they pass by the area’s fish farms. He said the pinks and chums weigh on average “barely a gram” when they exit rivers to pass by fish farms and are a tenth the size of young Fraser sockeye facing the same challenges in the Discovery Islands area.

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