Fin to Fin with B.C. Salmon: MP Who swam Fraser River twice proposes bill C-518

He has swam with the salmon down the Fraser River twice. Now federal MP Fin Donnelly has drafted a bill to move B.C.’s salmon farming industry towards a closed containment system.

The NDP Mp for New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody says Bill C-518 would help protect wild salmon, as well as kick start fish farming technologies that would make Canada a world leader.

When Donnelly became fisheries critic, last year, he made a motion to bring experts on how aqua culture in fish farms was affecting wild salmon.

“The evidence was there,” he says. “At the Fisheries and Oceans standing committee, we listened to somewhere between six and twelve experts.”

Donnelly says getting support for the bill has not been difficult. Conservative MP John Cummins, Delta-Richmond East, is one of those supporters. He says he is meeting with the Liberals and Conservative MPs but support is widespread.

“I am also feeling confident that the Bloc will support the bill.”

Fans of C-518 have emerged from the public as well. Actor William Shatner has taken on the cause after a fishing trip to Nimmo Bay on the North of Vancouver Island. Donnelly has also gained support from many B.C. First Nations through presentations and meetings.

Donnelly says Washington State is now producing closed-containment fish and the Common’s standing Committee will visit these facilities in late September or October.

His goal is to try and get government to adopt and propose the bill when they head back to the House Sept. 20th, which would likely speed up the bill’s passing.

Since February 2009, the federal government and B.C.’s salmon farming industry have been forced to re-structure the way in which they monitor and regulate their operations. The changes came in the wake of a court case by Wild Salmon Activist Alexandra Morton. Morton argued that fish farms in the oceans should fall under the federal jurisdiction, instead of provincial jurisdiction.

Colleen Dane, communications manager for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, says from the industry’s point of view, they have more reservations than full opposition to Bill C-518. The BC Salmon Farmers Association is the largest industry association in B.C. representing farmers as well as packers, shippers, and even some municipalities.

Dane says all hatcheries are already re-circulation closed containment systems. She adds that some farming operations are already closed containment but continual circulation (drawing fresh water). She says that while some smaller operations are already closed containment, an industry-wide switch would not be feasible with the current technological gaps.

“There are some questions about which is really more sustainable – using already existing ocean environments tides, flow, etc. – as opposed to artificial closed containment which demands artificial inputs such as hydro power as well as clearing and leveling land as well as building concrete structures for land-based operations.”

She adds that B.C. companies are looking into the newer technological operations but while their motive is not to be a world leader in developing technologies, they are motivated to move this way.

“Which can best provide for coastal communities? Which provides the best health for the fish? It is important that we produce good fish. People comment in the world market that B.C. farmed salmon is of the highest quality.”

Dane adds that the industry’s reservations are directed towards the idea of being forced into something that they cannot afford, or is not even necessarily better. She adds that the industry is not opposed to the idea of closed containment, but they do not feel that a drop deadline would serve anybody. She says current emote farming operations could not work as closed containment. They are too far off the main power grid.

While Donnelly’s main objective for the immediate future is the passing of Bill C-518, he has also helped initiate awareness over salmon issues at a different level. Donnelly swam the length of the Fraser in 2000. Since then, every year he travels the length of the Fraser River on canoe and rafts with the Sustainable Living Leadership Program.

Donnelly says that the program takes groups of youth who are active in community issues to make the journey stopping at significant sights along the way, such as the ancient forest.

“We would really like to get a youth from the headwaters area to come with us next year.”

Any youth interested are encouraged to visit

By Joseph Nusse Published in The Rocky Mountain Goat September 8, 2010