Opposition to net-cage salmon aquaculture in BC continues to escalate, particularly with new revelations of more positive findings for ISAv (Infectious Salmon Anemia virus). Lately, however, we've been alerted to some misunderstandings that are circulating with regard to our work to eradicate net-cages on the BC Coast. For the record, here are the facts.
We’d like to first stress that since its inception over a decade ago, Living Oceans has been committed to the total removal of all net-cage salmon farms from our oceans and a transition of the industry to closed containment. That commitment is shared by our partner organizations in CAAR (Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform) and has never wavered.
Citizens groups, fishermen, communities, activists and numerous First Nations have been protesting the proliferation of farms on the BC coast for over twenty years. But successive governments, both Federal and Provincial, have been equally committed to maintaining salmon aquaculture. It's a tough and ongoing struggle and sadly no strategies, to date, have succeeded in ensuring the removal of these farms.
By 2008, the weight of scientific evidence of the harm to juvenile wild salmon from farm-origin lice had become overwhelming. Living Oceans and our partners in CAAR decided that in the face of government and industry intransigence, interim measures needed to be tried in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on our wild stocks while we continued to pursue the goal of an end to net-cage farming.
To that end, we negotiated an agreement with BC's largest producer, Marine Harvest Canada, to fallow all farms on two key wild salmon out-migration routes in the Broughton Archipelago. During odd years, farms on the northern Tribune-Fife corridor would be emptied of lice-breeding farm fish during the migratory period of March 1 to June 1. On even years, the southern Knight Inlet route would be fallowed. This was an emergency, temporary measure designed to try to reduce some of the damage to wild stocks while we continued to press for a total transition to closed containment and the permanent removal of all net-cages.
To fully accomplish this, and entirely empty the routes, Marine Harvest required amendments to a couple of farms that would allow them to fallow all farms on each route during the designated period. The CAAR groups agreed not to actively oppose these amendment applications and in addition, negotiated an agreement with Marine Harvest and the Provincial government that any amendments issued to facilitate the fallowing plan would be time-limited and temporary in nature. The farms would not be granted permanent license amendments for increased production at any site, as the alternating fallow routes were only an interim measure on the road to closed containment. At no time has CAAR ever supported any increase in overall production.
The amendments have not been granted but the company has continued to implement the fallowing program, emptying the majority of farms on the designated route each year. A multi-year scientific study of the effectiveness of the program was undertaken in cooperation with Dr. Marty Krkosek, a well-known and highly regarded scientist with expertise in lice infestation of juvenile wild salmon in the region. Preliminary indications from this study, which is part of a multi-party program called the Broughton Archipelago Monitoring Plan (BAMP), are that the fallowing program has been effective in reducing lice levels on wild salmon in the Broughton.
All salmon farm production amendment applications have been voided for more than three years with the change of jurisdiction on salmon farming regulation to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). Given that agreements with the Province no longer stand, CAAR is strongly opposing any increase in salmon farm production on the BC coast or in any specific area of the BC coast. CAAR is very concerned that salmon farming companies may try to expand their production at particular farm sites now that DFO is in charge, and we intend to fight any such production expansion.
Living Oceans and CAAR remain committed to our goal: the total removal of all net-cage salmon farms on the BC coast and a complete transition to closed containment. We are pleased that while we struggle to reach that goal, our efforts with Marine Harvest have at least brought some measure of relief to BC's beleaguered wild salmon.
We all understand the critical importance of diversity in natural ecosystems. Just as ecological diversity maintains the health of our planet, diversity in strategies and approaches sustains the health of any movement for change.
Our work in the marketplace with major retailers has been incredibly effective in raising the issues around net-cage aquaculture. Thanks to Living Oceans and CAAR's efforts, grocery chains such as Overwaitea (Save-On, Price Smart) have been phasing out net-cage farmed salmon products and replacing them with closed containment farmed and wild salmon options. Safeway is working with closed containment salmon producers and has written, at our request, to Canada's Prime Minister encouraging investment in closed containment. We will continue to advocate for change through discussion with governments, negotiation with industry, dialogue and proactive work with retailers, cooperation with allies from coast to coast and communication with concerned citizens.
Sometimes our allies in this struggle for change choose different tactics than CAAR. While we may not always agree on the pathway to change, we respect their efforts and know that, like us, they too want an end to net-cage salmon farming. We can only hope that respect is mutual. We're all in this to protect wild salmon and the health of our oceans.
Catherine Stewart is Living Oceans Society's Salmon Farming Campaign Manager.