A. Olsen: I’ve got about 30 pages of questions for the Minister of Agriculture. I recognize we don’t have time for that, so I’ll do my best to distill these down and just pick the ones that are most important.
To start, I note that there was a question that was brought up about mad cow and avian flu, and the minister talked about the importance of addressing these. I just want to ask some questions about aquaculture-based diseases and whether or not the posture of the ministry is the same — has the same kind of attack mentality that it does on mad cow when we talk about HSMI or PRV.
I’m going to talk a little bit about the research. But just wanting to know what the approach is when it comes to…. When mad cow or avian flu happens, man, the entire Fraser Valley, or wherever it is, shuts down. Everybody stops, and we wash every tire and do everything…. It seems to not be the case when it comes to identified risks, whether it be those two or others, within aquaculture.
Can you talk a little bit about the approach taken by the ministry on aquaculture-based diseases?
Hon. L. Popham: Thanks for the question — a great question. There are similarities in our approach, for sure. Where the similarities are…. As we understand the risks and the disease and pathogen processes, how they transfer, we approach that the same way. A lot of that has to do with how we handle biosecurity on these farms.
The member mentioned mad cow disease and BSE. There’s a difference between those diseases and the other diseases that the member mentioned, HSMI and PRV. In the eyes of the CFIA, the mad cow and BSE are reportable diseases and the other two are not, which means that if we have a mad cow, BSE, or avian flu, the federal government has a different response. So if those are reported, they have to be reported to CFIA. Then, in that case, it is all hands on deck as far as the response goes. The CFIA has not made HSMI and PRV reportable diseases.
A. Olsen: Okay. Well, thank you for the answer.
Just along the lines of agriculture science and policy, how much of our budget is allocated to the research, in aquaculture science, into these two diseases that are so well known? The former member was talking about a lot of unknowns. How much are we, as a government, investing in the research on these? Just an idea. Is this more than last year? Are we increasing spending in this area or decreasing it? Where does it stand? I guess….
The Chair: Members are reminded to please turn off your electronic devices. Thank you.
A. Olsen: I’ll just leave it at that.
Hon. L. Popham: The member’s question was how much do we invest in fish health research in our budget in the Ministry of Agriculture. We don’t actually do fish research in our ministry. That falls under the responsibilities of DFO.
What we do in our lab is diagnostic services. Some of the information gathered from diagnostics services can contribute to the research that’s being done at DFO, but we do not do any research ourselves. We have requested that DFO increase their budget for fish health research, because we agree that there should be more contributed to that.
A. Olsen: Moving to inspection, and I do see diagnostics here — inspections of fish, of hatcheries, of open-net farms, of the processing plants. What kind of effort, if any, is being done within the ministry around the inspections of these facilities?
Hon. L. Popham: Thank you for the question. The activities that the member has mentioned were inspections of hatcheries and fish farms. All of that responsibility got transferred to DFO in 2010 with the Hinkson decision.
When the member looks through the blue book and looks at inspections, what that’s referring to is inspections of abattoirs and fish-processing plants, and that is under the lens of food safety.
A. Olsen: That falls under the Ministry of Agriculture, in food safety.
In terms of the relationship that the ministry has with…. It was talked about a lot here earlier — the relationship between the aquaculture industry and the wild salmon industry. There was a very definitive change a number of years ago where the government deliberately shifted its focus from wild salmon to more of an aquaculture-based industry focus. It has admitted as much. There are quotes. They say it. “That’s what we want. We want an industry-based aquaculture process.”
The member who was here asking questions…. We found some common ground on wild salmon. I’m quite excited about that.
Under your direction with the Ministry of Agriculture, how is it that we can shift back from an aquaculture-based focus — almost primarily focused on aquaculture, I’d argue, over the last, let’s just say, more than a decade and a half — going forward? As your agricultural land reserve work is being done for a future approach, how can we have that same kind of approach with wild salmon? And what kind of work is the ministry preparing to do in order to put some real plans in action on this?
Hon. L. Popham: Thanks for the question. Myself and the Premier have repeatedly said that wild salmon is a priority for our government, and we’ve not deviated from that message. Some of the issues that we’re grappling with are complicated because of that.
What we can say is that as far as a change of direction goes, what we need to do is to be able to work with our federal counterparts. They play a huge role. We can see that they are also working in the same direction, which is positive and makes us feel very hopeful. The Fisheries Act will be changed, and there is a huge focus on habitat protection, which is going to be critically important. We’re also working with DFO to promote the wild fisheries sector.
Now, the things that we’re doing in our ministry…. We haven’t had that much time, and it’s a massive issue. Some of the things that we’ve done ourselves is we are supporting making sure that young fishers are educated about the value of going into a wild fisheries economy. We put forward money for the B.C. Young Fishermen’s Gathering. It was a great, great conference. It included about 50 young fishers from coastal B.C. communities, including First Nations.
What they learned was probably invaluable for someone who may choose the wild fishery as their way of life. They learned about commercial fishing business practices, seafood marketing and sustainable harvesting. We put $10,000 into that conference. We’ve heard great feedback from that. We look forward to supporting them again.
We also put $40,000 into the Ecotrust conference, which was a gathering of people who are involved in the wild fisheries.
Those are the steps we’ve taken so far. We will continue to work, as best we can, with the federal government to make sure the direction remains the same. As I said, the Premier himself has continued to say that it’s a priority for our government.
The Chair: Members and Ministers, if I might have a moment just to remind everybody that while things have been collegial and we’re getting into very familiar forms of address of “you” and “will you do this” or “will you do that” and “oh, through the Chair,” the correct form of address would be “would the minister” or “will the member,” in terms of Standing Order 36.
When things get hot and heated, you will appreciate that I am the only “you” in this room. Otherwise, it is “member” and “minister.” Thank you.
A. Olsen: I’m so sorry. There’s only one other member in the Legislature that shares Saanich with me, and more often than not, we can sit and have lunch together and have a conversation. So it’s a bit odd to speak through the hon. Mr. Chair.
The Chair: I completely understand.
A. Olsen: Thank you. I appreciate it. I will learn.
In the past, we’ve had a ministry of fisheries as one of the foundational industries of our province. Both for the province of British Columbia as well as, before, for Indigenous people, fisheries was a foundational industry. So growing up where I grew up, I have challenges with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That’s for sure.
There was a recent article with respect to quotas, speaking directly to the young fishers’ piece. My understanding is that it’s becoming more and more difficult for fisher-people to make a profit, due to the way that those quotas are allocated. This is just a question that has come up as the minister was answering the question.
Through you, Mr. Chair, to the minister, will the province of B.C. be advocating for the fisher-people in the province? I think there was a recent report — or it’s about to be released; we were briefed on it — with respect to how fisher-people are remunerated for the work and the effort that they’re doing in our province?
Hon. L. Popham: Yes, we absolutely advocate for jobs here on the coast and opportunities for our wild fisher-people. I don’t know if the member knows, but I sit as the B.C. representative on the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers. On that committee, I continue to advocate for our wild fisheries. And at the beginning of the summer, in Saint John, there will be a convening of that committee.
A. Olsen: The suggestion of a ministry of fisheries is not to disparage the current minister or, necessarily, to criticize the way that it’s established. It just was more to point out the fact that in the past — and in fact, in past NDP governments or in past governments of similar…. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to say that.
Anyway, fisheries have played a very, very prominent role, to the point where we’ve had a minister specifically to relate to the coast and then, as well, to relate to the federal government, which is a big, unruly beast in and of itself. That was the point that I was making.
I just have a couple more areas, two more questions that I’d like to ask, still in the science and policy area of the ministry’s budget. In looking at the area for providing and improving public health protection, consumer and retail confidence, education and awareness, surveillance and risk assessment, what kinds of risk assessments has the government run with respect to farm-raised Atlantic salmon and the threat of disease, potentially, at some point, being escalated from where these diseases are seen today by CFIA — I guess it is — to the case of a mad cow or an avian flu?
What kind of risk assessment are we running with respect to the aquaculture industry and the wild salmon industry, since they share a space right now, as it currently is? When we talk about risk assessments and Atlantic salmon, what risks would we be contemplating here with this specific part of the budget, if we were investing anything in it?
Hon. L. Popham: Thanks for the question. I think the question was around risk assessment as far as disease goes. The member is most likely looking at the context given to him in the blue book, the line item there.
The context is, actually, to do with our mandate on the risk assessment. That would consider abattoirs and fish processing. But on the salmon farming side of it, aquaculture and wild salmon, that’s the responsibility of DFO. They do the risk assessments on those items. That being said, the MAACFA report, which we are just reviewing now, actually addresses the risks of fish farms. They’ve put forward their recommendations, and we’ll be considering those.
A. Olsen: Finally, there were some questions earlier with respect to fish farming, open net in the ocean or closed pen on land, and some rather general statements made about how one is more expensive than the other and one is sustainable and not.
There’s a portion of this budget — in the blue book, anyway — around business development. There’s seemingly a move in the industry and in other countries where fish farming exists of moving to on land.
In ensuring that we’re looking ahead, again, has the B.C. government made any investment in looking at this, looking at what a process would look like? We knew that the tenures were coming up. I understand that that’s a different ministry, which I will be canvassing that minister about. But in terms of the aquaculture industry — which we generate many millions of dollars in revenue from, spread across a number of different authorities — are we doing any business development and taking a look at what that looks like in moving the industry from open ocean to on land?
Hon. L. Popham: Thanks for the question. First off, let me just reiterate our platform commitment, which was to transition open-net farms to land-based fish farming where possible and also to explore incentives for industry to get there.
Within my ministry, absolutely exploring the incentives. Those are discussions that are happening. This is the first year…. Previous to this year, Agriculture has been excluded from accessing some innovation money. But this year, through the FACTAP program with the federal government, we are able to access that. So those are avenues where we can maybe secure some funding to support part of that mandate that we have, our platform. In the past, there have been small investments in the Kuterra land-based fish farm. But at this point, we’re starting fresh.
Obviously, because it’s in our platform, we’re looking at all avenues. That’s a commitment that we made, and in my ministry, we’re having those discussions now.