FIN IN THE NEWS: Bring change to the fish farming industry

It's about time we all stood up and demanded changes to fish farming

dcreid@catchsalmonbc.com D.C. Reid, Times Colonist

A month ago, I sent a note to Premier Gordon Campbell and Gail Shea (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) suggesting they might want to show up on the weekend at the legislative buildings to announce they had had a change of heart and were moving fish farms to closed containers on land. Well, I did not see them on the weekend, but I would say more than 3,000 people did come to protest the damage they have allowed to our wild salmon by the fish-farm lice blooms on fry migration routes.

I swelled the crowd with my one body, and moved up the granite steps to look out over the lawn covered with people. I was very happy to see most were regular human beings from all walks of life, rather than fringy environmentalists. Signs from towns on the long walk to Victoria were prominent. At least 15 speakers had been lined up from aboriginals, to politicians (Denise Savoie and Fin Donnelly), to politicians like Rafe Mair, the school girl who had first asked for closed containment, environmentalists like Vicky Husband, Arthur Black as emcee and at the end Alexandra Morton.

As you will know, Morton has been doing the science for the past decade and it was gratifying to see so many British Columbians seriously concerned for the totemic fish of this province. Recently the magazine

Science, a peer-reviewed well-known scientific review, published the latest article on sea lice, and diseases that can be introduced by Atlantic eggs moved to Pacific Ocean waters.

I think the only people who don't believe the feet deep pile of science are the fish farmers themselves -- and they are few in numbers (far fewer than they claim): only 2,100 jobs and 0.2 per cent of gross provincial product -- the government's own figures. And I think with the broad support I witnessed that the move to containment on land is inevitable in due course. And, in case you did not know, there already is a land-based fish farm industry in this province.

It crossed my mind a year ago there would come a point where the closely held fish farming industry, if it did not stop digging in its heels against doing the very small thing of separating their fish from the ocean that they would lose the argument. I think that point arrived on the weekend. Part of the overall movement, like happened in logging and seal skins, is to take the fight to consumers of farmed fish.

When I go to restaurants, menus print messages that they use only wild seafood products. And more and more people are asking at non-posted restaurants and stores. The fight has begun to educate the American food giants about the environmentally unsound practices of fish farms. One of them, Target, dropped farmed fish from 1,700 stores. Of the rest, only one, Costco, operates in Canada -- you may want to ask them.

I think it is fair comment to say the fish farms cannot win the argument anymore. If I were on that side of the issue, I would make immediate changes to closed containers on land -- I would have done it long ago. Fish farms do not want to lose their biggest customers, and they are very close to that becoming a reality. The larger issue is customers not wanting to buy any aquaculture product, something that would be truly unfortunate, particularly as only one part of the industry chose to resist positive change -- and have no one mad at them at all.

We need our wild salmon protected. Almost quadruple the jobs -- 7,700 -- are dependent on the sport fishery, and there is also the commercial -- 2,000 fishing, and 3,700 processing -- and aboriginal side, too. A sport-caught salmon is the best economic use of our wild salmon -- $500 million tourism dollars in salt-water alone. And bears and eagles and another 35 species of land mammals and birds need wild salmon, too. Even trees need salmon. As much as 15 per cent of the carbon in a millennium-old cedar tree comes from the bodies of salmon.