Question Period, Feb. 28, 2018

Answer:

FISH FARM TENURES AND WILD SALMON PROTECTION

S. Furstenau: It’s a historic day. We’re both asking about the same topic today, although with, certainly, different outcomes in mind, I think. Yesterday my colleague from Oak Bay–Gordon Head asked this government if the restocking of fish farms shortly before contracts were up for review would impact the government’s assessment of their tenure status. The minister said they had a good meeting with First Nations. That’s great. I’m truly glad to hear they had a good meeting, but we need to start getting some actual answers.

Communities across B.C. are trying desperately to get their elected officials to save wild salmon. Where we are failing, they are trying to do the work themselves. Mr. Campbell is trying to prevent contaminated bloodwater from infecting wild fish. Thousands in Squamish are ringing alarm bells about BURNCO’s quarry application and the threat it poses to the spawning estuary in McNab Creek. The ’Namgis members near Alert Bay, many of them courageous young women, have spent all winter camped out in protest of fish farms in their traditional territory. They deserve an honest answer.

To the minister designated as the government’s lead for strategic aquaculture policy: will you remove open-pen fish farms from wild salmon migratory routes?

Hon. D. Donaldson: I just want to start off by saying that members on this side of the House share the values that are expressed by the member around the importance of wild salmon to this province and the importance of protecting wild salmon in this province.

We have embarked on a process with First Nations. We’ve had respectful discussions with five First Nations, as a matter of fact. In a January 30 meeting, they agreed to a process that we’ll be embarking on in order to get to a government-to-government resolution of what, really, we’ve inherited as 16 years of lack of focus by the previous government on this issue.

All topics are on the table in these government-to-government discussions with First Nations, including the topic raised by the member. I just want to say it’s a process of reconciliation. That means it would be disrespectful to make a unilateral decision outside of the agreed-upon process.

Mr. Speaker: The House Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.

S. Furstenau: According to government documents, the Minister of Agriculture is actually the lead for strategic aquaculture policy. If anything, this week we’ve seen how disorganized and confusing the jurisdictional responsibilities are for salmon and steelhead issues, even within a single government. “The health of B.C.’s wild salmon population is paramount…. The industries that are wholly dependent on wild salmon — sport fishing and the commercial fishery — represent a significant majority of our coastal economy and cannot be put at further risk.” The impacts of aquaculture “must be minimized for the industry to continue operating in B.C., and investments must be made in technologies that ensure this. Investments must also be made to rehabilitate and enhance wild salmon populations.”

Perhaps these words sound familiar to some of the members in this chamber. They should. They come from a 2007 Legislative Assembly Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture, a committee that a number of the MLAs in this chamber — some of them now ministers — were a part of. The final report called for immediate action. A few years later the Cohen Commission further amplified that urgency.

My question is to the Premier. We have enough reports. Given the severe threats to wild salmon, what, concretely, is your government going to do differently to protect this foundation species?

Hon. D. Donaldson: The member raises questions about tenures. Tenures are part of the responsibility for my ministry when it comes to foreshore leases associated with fish farms. Obviously, that’s the question I’ll be answering.

I want to say that the member does raise valid points. I would assume that she does not want to presuppose a reconciliation process, agreed upon with five First Nations, around concerns around open-net Atlantic salmon fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago — concerns that were raised repeatedly in the last 16 years and where the previous government did nothing to act on those concerns.

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