Protecting wild salmon and fish farms transition plan

I have made it abundantly clear, I care a lot about wild salmon.

It is the most important renewable natural resource on the coast of British Columbia.

The provincial government is waffling on whether they are going to extend or cancel the permits for the open net pen fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. They could be aggressively advancing a land-based, closed containment fish farm industry. We could be producing an ocean-friendly product and developing ourselves as a leader in sustainably grown farmed salmon.

This is yet another 21st-century economic opportunity, that produces thousands of well-paying jobs and we are slow to act, we are losing the opportunity to secure the first-mover advantage in the marketplace. This seems to be how we operate in British Columbia.

In Question Period today, asked the government what their plan is to get this industry into the 21st century.

The DFO not protecting wild salmon

This week the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) released a report harshly criticizing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) mismanagement of the fish farm industry in British Columbia. The OAG found that the DFO, “did not adequately manage the risks associated with salmon aquaculture consistent with its mandate to protect wild fish.”

[Check out this CBC radio interview with the Audit lead Julie Galfand. It is appalling.]

In addition to mismanagement, the DFO seems to be confused about their own regulations and enforcement. This is not the kind of confidence-building behaviour that British Columbians want for our coast.

The provincial government has more authority than they are accepting.

I have asked several questions of various ministries about wild salmon policy over the past few months.

The province is responsible for forests and land management, agricultural practices, community development, constructing roads and highways, Indigenous relations and environmental policy. All profoundly impact wild salmon and the fragmentation is a real problem.

There is no question that the provincial government needs to maintain a relationship with the DFO. But, by constantly deferring to the DFO in their responses, Ministers are devaluing our role in the decline of wild salmon. Returns have gone from eye-popping low returns each year, to a state of emergency. We must stop deferring to the DFO. Let’s unify our disparate ministries and stakeholder groups into one powerful voice for our natural resource economies and the survival of our coastal and rural communities.

Time to take control of our coast

There is not one stakeholder that I have spoken to, that has not in some way blamed the DFO for managing wild salmon stocks to near zero. It is seemingly unanimous. While the DFO licenses fish farms in British Columbia, and they permit locations, the provincial government must also permit fish farm operations to secure their net pens to the ocean floor which is a provincial jurisdiction and part of our land management responsibility.

The provincial government could easily follow Washington State and phase out open net fish farms. With 20 permits set to be renewed in the Broughton Archipelago by June 20, 2018, now is the time to act.

The provincial government must show leadership and plan for responsibly transitioning to a land-based industry. It must limit the damage done by the DFO before they further degrade our coastal communities and their natural resource economies.

Transition to a 21st-century resource economy

I certainly appreciate the vocal support from government for wild salmon, but, we need a greater sense of urgency. Yet, there is a looming decision and British Columbia has an opportunity lead the transition to a 21st-century economy on wild and farmed salmon.

There are exciting opportunities to build a sustainable industry on land that produces an ocean-friendly product. Investors and innovators are ready to build that industry and need a government that signals that support to the marketplace.

We have to move quickly and assertively.

We have to move with confidence, empowered by the pride and love British Columbians feel for the wild Pacific salmon.

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

The government of Canada says to British Columbia: “Trust us. We can properly manage natural resources on your coast.” Yet, we had some insight earlier this week of the appalling job done by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released a new report about how the DFO has been managing the salmon farming industry. Her determination: the federal government has not adequately managed the risks associated with salmon farming, putting wild salmon at risk. I quote from the report:

“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.”

In a CBC radio interview, the host pressed Julie Gelfand for examples of how the DFO is not doing its job. She responded: “There are so many, it’s really quite disturbing.” Then she went into great detail.

Our government must stop deferring to the DFO. They cannot be trusted with their responsibility for the open-net aquaculture industry. To the Minister of Agriculture: when is she going to announce the transition plan for getting open-net pens off our coast? 

Hon. L. Popham:

It’s obviously a very, very important topic. It’s something that our government is very concerned about, and we’re doing everything we can at this point to move this file forward in a positive way.

One of the things that we’re committed to is helping the aquaculture industry transition to closed containment where possible. We know that on Vancouver Island, there’s a land-based closed-containment operation that’s doing its best. We have been talking with tech companies — one on Vancouver Island, again, that’s looking at closed-containment ocean based. We also recently met with a Norwegian company that’s looking at the same technology.

Around the world, we’re seeing technologies develop that will help assist us in either having closed containment in ocean or on land, and we’re very supportive to get the aquaculture industry there where possible.

I think that the member must also understand that the federal government holds most of the cards on this file. We’re doing everything that we can from our position, but the federal government has to meet us at the table.

Mr. Speaker:

Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

 A. Olsen:

There’s no question that the federal government, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, holds a lot of cards when it comes to open-net-pen fish farms. On land, though, British Columbia owns a lot more of responsibility than perhaps has been accepted.

We have an incredible opportunity in front of us and must address the significant threat to our wild salmon by embracing innovation and new technology. As was pointed out, there are several prospects — large-scale, land-based aquaculture not only here in British Columbia but around North America.

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has signed legislation to phase out marine farming of Atlantic salmon and other non-native species by 2022. On the east coast of North America, we see significant investments taking place into land-based aquaculture. Atlantic Canada is taking decisive steps. We need to be a leader in this transition. We have B.C. companies that have the technology to make this economically viable and help support a transition to bring stable jobs to numerous communities on our coast.

My question is again to the Minister of Agriculture. We need a plan. We cannot be late-to-the-game laggards. When are we going to see a plan to how we’re transitioning this industry onto land?

Hon. L. Popham:

Of course, this is an important topic. Our government has stated numerous times that we are committed to helping industry transition. There’s technology that’s developing constantly around the world to help other countries get to this as well.

I just want to reiterate that you have to look at the whole picture when we’re talking about the health of wild salmon. Our government is absolutely committed to protecting the health. We have to work with the federal government on that respect.

There absolutely is a place for closed containment in this equation, but we need to look at the whole picture. There are a lot of things that are affecting the health of our wild salmon, and the issue cannot be fully addressed without full engagement and leadership from the federal government.

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