A diverse audience, all concerned with the issue of farmed salmon, came to Camosun College on Saturday for a screening of a film entitled “Hear the Call” and came away with a renewed conviction that they need to do what they could do to halt the aquaculture process.
The film, by Nat Geo explorer and filmmaker, Josh Thome, provided a focal point for opponents of fish farms as the province approaches a decision on whether some 22 licences for the open pen fish farms come up for renewal this month.
The aquaculture industry in B.C., largely owned by Norwegian interests, is nervously watching how the B.C. NDP government will act in regard to fish farms as those 22 licences represent a substantial proportion of the 36 tenures currently in operation.
A group of Indigenous communities in the Broughton Archipelago has been fighting to have fish farms completely removed from their traditional territories and say that those operations should be moved into on-land operations.
“These farms pose a significant risk to wild fish stocks, not only in B.C. but in a global sense,” said John Werring, senior scientist and policy advisor for the David Suzuki Foundation and one of the speakers at Saturday’s film screening.
“The two biggest problems (with open net fish farms) are parasites and pathogens. When sea lice infest those farms they multiply by the millions and they will eventually spread to the wild salmon populations. The pathogens within farmed salmon populations also reproduce by the billions. Those viruses are excreted by the penned fish and the tide washes them out into the wild populations.”
During the last provincial election campaign, the now governing NDP spoke out about the need to rethink the practice of fish farming in B.C. During the campaign, now Premier John Horgan said, unequivocally, that the permits for the aquaculture operations should not be renewed when they come up for consideration in June.
Those definitive statements appear to be somewhat muted as Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has called upon Ottawa to step up regulation of aquaculture on the west coast, stating that’ while the province has “huge concerns,” it is the federal government that “holds most of the cards” on the issue.
Chief Ernest Alfred of the ’Namgis First Nation, who was present at the screening, spoke out vehemently against the practice of open-net fish farming. Alfred has led recent protests and occupations against the practice in the Broughton Archipelago in the hopes of raising public awareness about the practice.
“I am not anti farming or anti jobs…I am in favour of protecting wild salmon. There are a handful of First Nations who have signed agreements as a matter of economic desperation, but if you look at their books, it hasn’t actually helped those communities. A few men have gotten very rich, but the First Nations people have seen little or no benefit,” said Alfred.
Sean Hall, a spokesperson for the B.C. Salmon Farming Association, said that the industry is committed to responsible aquaculture and has invested a great deal of money to improve practices, including finding ways of treating fish infected with parasites and developing better fish pens with a view to preventing escapes of farmed fish.
“Half the fish the human race consumes is farmed and the U.N. predicts that it will soon be two thirds of world consumption. This industry actually saves wild fish stocks from over fishing,” said Hall, adding that, should the industry be forced to move production to on-land facilities “it would effectively shut down the industry’ at the cost of as many as 6,600 jobs in B.C., 20 per cent of whom are First Nations workers.
Werring had said that he was aware of these claims and pointed to a fish farming operation opening in Florida slated to produce 90,000 metric tonnes of fish annually in an on-land facility. That amount, said Werring, is the equivalent to the entire production of B.C. Salmon farms.