In April 2017, the MLA for North Island promised Indigenous leaders in Alert Bay an NDP government would outright remove fish farms from their waters. Not only will today’s announcement fail to live up to that commitment, it also leaves room for new farms to move in.
The Ministry of Agriculture’s Advisory Council of Finfish and Aquaculture (MAACFA) was struck in 2016 to provide strategic advice and policy guidance on marine-based salmon aquaculture in B.C. Over the 18 months MAACFA was in deliberations, the government put a pause on the issuance of new open-pen fish farms. Now that the report has been submitted and the government has chosen this new policy for aquaculture, that pause is no longer in place. If new farms can align with the government’s new policy by 2022 they will be able operate in B.C. waters.
One million sockeye returned to the Fraser River in the 2009 collapse - compared to historic returns of 100 million - triggering then Prime Minister Harper to launch the Cohen Commission of Inquiry. In 2012 Justice Cohen said, "salmon farms should not be permitted to operate unless it is clear that they pose no more than a minimal risk to the Fraser River sockeye salmon.” In 2016, five years after the Cohen report and its 75 recommendations were released, only 850,000 sockeye returned to the Fraser. In 2017, it was only 1.4 million. Last December, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada called for new protection for Fraser River sockeye under the federal Species at Risk Act.
Steelhead, a species of rainbow trout that migrate to sea like salmon, also swim past fish farms.
The Thompson should have a run of 10,000 steelhead - this past year it had only 177. The Chilcotin should have had a run of 5,000 - instead there were only 58 fish. This February, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada initiated a seldom-used fast-track process and concluded that two populations of sea-going Steelhead Trout breeding in the Thompson and Chilcotin river systems in BC are at imminent risk of extinction.
There is mounting evidence that sea lice and virus transfer threaten wild salmon stocks. In May a multi-year Strategic Salmon Health Initiative led by Dr. Kristi Miller found that the PRV virus known to cause disease in farmed Atlantic salmon causes disease in Chinook salmon in B.C.