VICTORIA, B.C. – Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for wild salmon, says the province’s policy on salmon farms announced by the B.C. government today continues to put wild salmon at risk and fails to address the concerns of First Nations province wide. The province announced that in four years, government is going to require fish farming companies to not adversely impact wild salmon and have agreements with the nations whose territory they are operating and polluting in.
“Frankly, I am embarrassed for our province that the measures that will be implemented in four years are not already happening,” said Olsen. “It’s like surgeons announcing that starting in 2022 they are going to start washing their hands before procedures. This should have been the standard all along. The government of B.C. has just sold out wild salmon and are using First Nations as cover. Allowing fish farming to continue as is for four more years is a failure of leadership in Victoria.”
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada summarized their audit of fish farms and DFO by saying: “We concluded that Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not adequately manage the risks associated with salmon aquaculture consistent with its mandate to protect wild fish.”
“DFO has proven to be absent, at best, and negligent, at worst, when it comes to protecting wild salmon,“ Olsen continued. “Given their track record, we do not trust DFO to be an authority on whether fish farms are adversely impacting wild salmon stocks. The B.C. Greens would have given industry the 18 months needed to grow and harvest smolts already in their pens, an additional 60 days to decommission their sites, and then we would have cancelled their provincial tenures.”
DFO’s 2018 salmon outlook for B.C. states that of 91 different groupings of salmon, only 28 are expected to be at or above the amount necessary for a healthy population.
“Unfortunately, fish farms are one of several threats facing wild salmon. Our wild salmon are also at risk due to habitat loss, climate change and poor management. I will continue to focus my efforts on pushing government to take action in these other areas through the newly appointed Wild Salmon Advisory Council and wild salmon secretariat that will directly advise the Premier. ”
MLA Olsen publicly released his Standing up for Wild Salmon report on May 16th after months of consultation and legislative work. The report outlined the challenges facing B.C.’s wild salmon populations and highlighted a proposed path forward.
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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.