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Suzuki, groups call for moratorium on new salmon farm tenures

August 13, 2015
Four new farms allowed despite ongoing policy review and threats to wild salmon

VANCOUVER—Environmental organizations, fishermen and David Suzuki joined today in calling on the Province of British Columbia to impose an unequivocal moratorium on the granting of new licences to open netpen fish farms, in the wake of news that new tenures were just issued.

On the eve of the B.C. Day long weekend, B.C. Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick quietly granted the Norwegian salmon farming industry access to four more areas of the B.C. coast. News of the controversial move was posted on a government website, but no announcement was made.

“These licences were granted despite the fact that Minister Letnick has been tasked with reviewing the government’s policy on aquaculture tenures,” said Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Society. “The review is due to be completed in October, so it is difficult to see why a decision had to be made on these applications right now.”

This move by the provincial government comes at a time when migrating wild salmon are facing some of the worst stresses ever recorded. “If we have learned anything from 40 years of environmental concerns, it is that we must pull back on human impacts,” said David Suzuki. “Nature can heal itself if given the time and freedom from human pressure. One thing is clear: we must not continue to use the oceans as a garbage can with open net pens.”

“Returning wild salmon are encountering some of the warmest river-water temperatures on record,” said John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation. “In warm water, they expend energy more quickly, have less available oxygen and become more susceptible to disease pathogens. The last thing they need is another stressor in the form of pathogen release from more open net-pen farms.”

“Fish farms are feedlots and so they dangerously amplify pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and lice.” said Alexandra Morton. “Minister Letnick was involved in containing the highly pathnogenic avian influenza outbreak in BC poultry farms last winter. The issue with salmon farms is similar. Feedlots must be quarantined to prevent spread of disease whether they are raising fish or birds. The Minister is blindly risking the wild salmon economy of BC.”

Watershed Watch Salmon Society’s Executive Director Aaron Hill stated, “By disregarding the Cohen Commission’s recommendations and gutting the Fisheries Act, the federal government has not been acting in the bests interest of B.C.’s wild salmon—we are hoping for better from the Province. British Columbia needs an immediate moratorium on any further tenures for open-net salmon farms on our coast.”

One of the new farms is sited in Clio Channel where Grieg Seafood offered commercial fishermen $20,000 each to withdraw their objections losing an important fishing ground. In a recent letter, Stewart Hawthorne of Norwegian-based Grieg Seafood argued that the new Clio Channel farm would earn more money than the local fishery and on this basis should take priority. Grieg Seafood’s profits, however, leave the region while the fishermen’s income remains local and is vital to the health of B.C.’s coastal communities. The fishermen refused the money and still lost their fishing ground.

Eric Hobson of Kuterra points out that the provincial government should be supporting British Columbians who are at the forefront of developing closed containment salmon farms. “Closed containment operations like the ‘Namgis First Nation’s Kuterra farm near Port McNeill allow the farmer to control the environment entirely, ensuring optimal fish health without the need for costly inputs like chemicals and drugs or risk to wild salmon,” said Hobson.

The Norwegian government has invested in developing closed containment because the ocean environment has become increasingly hostile to salmon farms, with disease and sea lice outbreaks representing a major cost to both industry and the environment. The Norwegian industry’s failure to control its effluent at home has led to a loss of social licence and severe restrictions on the industry’s growth in Norway.

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Contact Information

Alex Morton 250-974-7086
John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation 604-306-0517
Ian Hinkle, Watershed Watch Salmon Society 250-217-3933
Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Society 604-788-5634

Background

Tenure and licensing
The Province of British Columbia maintains control over the lands and waters occupied by salmon farms, while the Department of Fisheries and Oceans issues the industry’s operating licences. Both governments have been undertaking a review of their criteria for siting salmon farms, which environmental groups have long challenged for having no basis in science. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick has been tasked with a policy review and is due to report to Cabinet in October, 2015.

Social Licence for Aquaculture
Many First Nations, fishermen and environmental groups have been vocally opposed to open net-pen salmon farming in British Columbia for decades, citing the increasing numbers of scientific studies linking the farms with declines in the abundance of wild salmon and other salmonid species everywhere in the world that the industry has become established. In May of this year, environmentalists were joined by 110,000 people who signed a petition asking the Province of BC not to expand the salmon farming industry. The petition included several businesses and business associations that have come to appreciate that the economy of this coast depends on clean water and abundant wild fish. The petition was presented to the Legislature on May 27, 2015.

Norway has sharply reduced the growth outlook for salmon farming in their waters, as a result of the failure of the farms to control sea lice and consequent opposition from commercial and recreational fishing interests.

Challenging Ocean Conditions
Grieg Seafood reported a loss of 1,000 tons in June, 2015 due to low oxygen from their farms off Gold River, B.C. (http://www.griegseafood.no/inverstors/stock-exchange-filings).  Lower oxygen levels can be caused by warmer waters and by plankton blooms, both of which have been a problem on the B.C. coast this year. Greig also reported losses due to pancreas disease in its fish in Rogaland, Norway; and further losses in its Shetland operations where fish failed to attain expected biomass.

The coastal waters of Chile, the world's second-largest producer of salmon, are awash with a bacteria known as SRS, or Piscirickettsiosis. The bacteria causes lesions and haemorrhaging in infected fish, and swells their kidneys and spleens, eventually killing them. This has led to a level of antibiotic use that has some US retail grocers, including Costco, refusing to market the product.

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