The Green Party is stepping up and speaking for salmon in the Legislature. We will keep pressing the government to remove fish farms from the migratory routes of wild salmon, to cancel the MSC certification from the chum fishery, and to appoint a Wild Salmon Commissioner or a Wild Salmon Secretariat.
That became clear during the current sitting of the legislature when Green Party MLAs repeatedly raised salmon and steelhead issues.
It is thought to be the first time in the legislature that a party has made salmon such a significant focus of questions.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, representing Oak Bay Gordon Head, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau all asked the government about fishery issues during Question Period and estimates.
“We are pressing the government for change on a file that has for far too long been pushed aside,” said Weaver. “But although we’ve asked a lot of important questions, we haven’t got a lot of answers.”
Weaver said the exchange he had with the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development provided “one of the worst responses I've got in my five years in the BC Legislature.”
Weaver asked a simple question about fish farm licenses and “I got gobbledygook back as the response not once, but twice.”
Weaver informed the House members of the ‘Namgis Nation in Alert Bay had
been occupying Marine Harvest farms since last August to protest the impact of aquaculture on wild salmon.
He said the ‘Namgis believed Marine Harvest was preparing to restock a farm in apparent anticipation of getting its lease renewed by government.
“The fish food has been delivered, they say, and the bird nets are now in place. They believe that the restock could happen as early as today,” Weaver told the House.
“My question . . . is this. If Marine Harvest is pumping new smolts into those pens, how will that impact the government’s assessment of their tenure status come June?”
FLNRO Minister Doug Donaldson replied his government “is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 great jobs that depend on those stocks . . . and we’ve started a path forward with First Nations.”
Weaver said the response was so vague it amounted to a non-answer.
“I recognize that this is not answer period, but . . . I would have thought we’d get some semblance of a response to a very important issue,” he said. “We’re beginning to see other jurisdictions, like Washington, take steps . . . When will the government remove farm sites from the wild migration routes of salmon, which [in the election] they promised they would do?”
The Minister replied the government is “in discussions” with First Nations.
But he made no promise of action – and gave no real answers.
In Question Period the next day Sonia Furstenau returned to the topic.
“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,” she said, before reading from a 2007 report by a special legislative committee supported by the NDP. That report called on the government to take immediate action to minimize the negative impacts of fish farms and to enhance wild salmon populations.
“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?” asked Furstenau.
“I want to say that the member does raise valid points,” replied Donaldson. But he didn’t promise to do anything more than to consult First Nations.
Adam Olsen - who has recently started posting ‘Salmon Stories’ on his blog and social media through #MySalmonStory - questioned the government about dramatic declines in Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead stocks, which the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife of Canada has recently declared are at imminent risk of extinction.
The two steelhead stocks are being incidentally caught in a commercial Fraser River chum fishery.
“The Thompson should have a run of steelhead of 10,000. This year it had 177. The Chilcotin should’ve had a run of 5,000. Instead there were 58,” Olsen said in the House. “I am gravely concerned about the future of the Interior Fraser steelhead stocks. To whichever minister is going to take lead in this emergency, can you please clarify what is being done on this urgent issue?”
Donaldson replied that there “was a lack of focus by the previous government on wild salmon and steelhead and a lack of action by the previous federal government.”
But he didn’t say what his government will do about it and instead shifted the responsibility back to Ottawa.
Olsen told the House the Fraser chum fishery, which has Marine Stewardship Council certification, is part of the reason “two ancient steelhead runs are facing imminent extinction under the watch of this government.”
“We are down to dozens of steelhead, with no capacity to lose more,” said Olsen.
“My question again: will the minister initiate an immediate provincial protection and recovery action plan to save this endangered species, starting by pulling the chum gill-net fishery's MSC sustainable listing?”
Replied the Minister: “It's a DFO jurisdiction on the gill-net fishery and we're working on that.”
Olsen returned to the issue in a later Question Period, saying he was still waiting for an answer.
“The chum salmon gillnet fishery, in and of itself, may be sustainable, but the impact it is having on the endangered steelhead is not . . . will you pull the chum gillnet fishery MSC sustainability listing, given the significant impact it's having on steelhead?” he asked.
Donaldson said B.C. is “working with the federal government to formulate their fishing plans to mitigate the bycatch,” and that his government doesn’t “have the ability to pull Marine Stewardship Council certification.” Government records, however, indicate that the Ministry of Agriculture provides the recommendation and endorsement that are key to obtaining the certification.
Said Olsen later: “I’m tired of hearing DFO is responsible for B.C.’s salmon. It is our responsibility as British Columbians to protect that resource. We can’t just stand by while Ottawa continues to pursue policies that put our wild stocks at risk.”
Olsen brought the week of salmon questions to a close with a crucial ask of Premier Horgan.
“Every question we asked this week was about steelhead and wild salmon. We haven't received straight answers to our questions,” he said “I don't doubt this government's commitment to wild salmon, but I wonder about their ability to make concrete changes when it appears it is being managed off the side of everyone's desk.”
Then he asked the Premier: “Will your government consider creating a wild salmon commissioner or secretariat to unite and streamline the work being done by government to protect our wild salmon and steelhead relatives?”
Replied Horgan: “He has, I think, characterized fairly effectively the challenge that all of us have in British Columbia with co-management of our iconic salmon species, whether they be steelhead, whether they be chum, whether they be chinook, sockeye and the like. But that challenge didn't just arrive, as you know, and that challenge will take some time to figure out.”
But how much time do the salmon have?
Wild stocks continue to decline while the B.C. government continues to dither.
“We've heard a lot of words spoken this week. What we're proposing, with the line of questioning and with the suggestion that I made in my initial question, is action,” Olsen said in the House.
The Green Party will continue to speak for salmon, and will keep pressing the government to remove fish farms from the migratory routes of wild salmon, to cancel the MSC certification from the chum fishery, and to appoint a Wild Salmon Commissioner or a Wild Salmon Secretariat.
INTERIOR FRASER STEELHEAD POPULATION AND CHUM GILLNET FISHERY
A. Olsen: The Interior Fraser steelhead are in crisis. Last October I sent letters to FLNRO, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Ministry of Environment asking for information about what was being done and how we could be of help.
Despite knowledge that the letter was circulating amongst external government contacts, I never got a response. Since then, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada initiated a seldom-used fast-track process and concluded that two populations of steelhead trout breeding in the Thompson and Chilcotin river systems in B.C. are at imminent risk of extinction.
I’m going to ask again. The Thompson should have a run of steelhead of 10,000. This year it had 177. The Chilcotin should have had a run of 5,000. Instead, there were 58. I am gravely concerned about the future of the Interior Fraser steelhead stocks. To whichever minister is going to take the lead in this emergency, can you please clarify what is being done on this urgent issue?
Hon. D. Donaldson: I appreciate and welcome the question from the member. Any time we can talk about steelhead or wild salmon in this chamber, it’s an important day to be remembered.
Yes, the precipitous decline of the Interior Fraser steelhead populations is on record. It was as many as 2,500 spawners returned in 2007. This year, 235. There was a lack of focus by the previous government on wild salmon and steelhead and a lack of action by the previous federal government on steelhead and wild salmon in B.C. We need to maintain the distinct genetic stock and be aware of environmental impacts, concerns from First Nations and nearly 10,000 good jobs that depend on the salmon fishery.
We’re pleased to hear about the federal changes to the federal Fisheries Act and the support for habitat restoration that’s needed in B.C. We are taking the lead through my ministry in making sure that the federal government’s feet are held to the fire. The commercial bycatch in the Fraser is of utmost concern to us. I know I’ve talked to the member about this, that we’re making every representation we can to the federal government to correct that.
Again, we welcome the changes in the federal Fisheries Act that will help us address the habitat concerns as well.
Mr. Speaker: Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the response, but two ancient steelhead runs are facing imminent extinction under the watch of this government.
As you well know, steelhead returned to the Fraser at the same time as DFO was opening gillnet fisheries for chum salmon. B.C. steelhead experts estimate that 50 percent of the Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead are accidentally caught by these nets as they try to swim upstream to spawn. We are down to dozens of steelhead, with no capacity to lose more, but our government continues to support the gillnet fishery, with the Ministry of Agriculture awarding the chum fishery a marine stewardship certification, promoting it as sustainable to the world.
My question again: will the minister initiate an immediate provincial protection and recovery action plan to save this endangered species, starting by pulling the chum gillnet fishery’s MSE sustainable listing?
Hon. D. Donaldson: On the overall issue, I certainly don’t want to be part of a situation where we fight over the last Interior Fraser steelhead in the system. I don’t think any member in this Legislature would want to be part of that.
We’re consulting on the last remaining recreational fisheries, where Interior Fraser steelhead are incidentally caught as a bycatch. As you know, there is no more recreational fishing of the steelhead and no more catch and release for that particular species.
We’re working with DFO to identify higher-risk commercial and First Nations net fisheries impacting the Interior Fraser steelhead, exactly as the member pointed out. We’re working with DFO. It’s a DFO jurisdiction on the gillnet fishery, and we’re working on that. And we’re consulting with Interior First Nations on the potential closing of Interior Fraser food and commercial fisheries in light of the conservation issue.
I met just recently with the five chiefs of the Nicola Valley bands on this issue, on Friday, as well as with the B.C. Wildlife Federation. The long-term goal is to ensure that those steelhead return in the years to come.
INTERIOR FRASER STEELHEAD POPULATION AND CHUM GILLNET FISHERY
A. Olsen: Last week I asked if government would retract the chum gillnet fisheries’ Marine Stewardship certification before the Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers steelhead go extinct. In response, the Minister of FLNRO said: “It’s DFO’s jurisdiction on the gillnet fishery, and we’re working on that.”
The minister isn’t wrong, but he didn’t answer the question. Steelhead’s fall return coincides with the chum salmon gillnet fishery, which, as the minister pointed out, is managed by DFO. As steelhead are managed by the province and swim upstream to spawn, they are getting caught and killed by the chum fisheries’ nets. It is happening at such a significant rate that the COSEWIC extinction listing says it’s one of the greatest threats facing steelhead survival, yet it’s a practice the province is going out of its way to certify and advertise as sustainable. The chum salmon gillnet fishery, in and of itself, may be sustainable, but the impact it is having on the endangered steelhead is not.
This time I direct my question to the Minister of Agriculture. Will you pull the chum gillnet fishery MSC sustainability listing, given the significant impact it’s having on steelhead?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Once again, I welcome the question regarding steelhead. The Interior Fraser steelhead run is of grave concern to members on this side of the House, as I believe it is to all members in this chamber who do not want to see the extirpation, the extinction, of a couple of runs of steelhead in the Fraser system and all it means about biodiversity.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, pointed out that poor marine survival and excessive bycatch in non-target fisheries under the jurisdiction of DFO, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is the major cause for the loss that we’re seeing and the decline in this species.
We know that the federal government has routinely ignored the bycatch issue. We know that the former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who was supported by the former Premier, Christy Clark, and many members on that side who are members and support the federal Conservatives, did nothing to represent B.C.’s interest when it comes to steelhead in the Interior Fraser system.
We are working, helping the federal….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. D. Donaldson: We’re working with the federal government to formulate their fishing plans to mitigate the bycatch. When it comes to the Marine Stewardship Council, we are having input and working with the federal government on that.
We don’t have the ability to pull Marine Stewardship Council certification. They’re an independent, non-profit society.
Mr. Speaker: Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
A. Olsen: I’m guessing that while the steelhead go to near extinction or get extirpated…. We are going to be calling the chum fishery certifiably marine sustainable, while another species goes near extinction.
Look. I did receive the letter, a response, from the Minister of FLNRO — we tracked it down; it was in a constituency in-box — in which he said: “Accountabilities for fisheries- and ocean-related issues and initiatives are distributed across the provincial government. Several agencies play a lead role in delivering key aspects of this work, including FLNRO, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Indigenous Relations, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.” The list is long. Perhaps this is why while one ministry says bycatch is a leading threat, another is saying it’s sustainable.
My question to the Minister of FLNRO is: how can six ministries, in addition to DFO, play a lead role in managing this crisis?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Well, yes, many ministries under provincial jurisdiction play a role. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture has concerns about runoff from farms that impact the waters that these steelhead spawn in. The Ministry of Environment has jurisdiction over pollutants in those waters. My ministry has many tools at their disposal when it comes to the sport fishery.
What I want the member to know…. I clearly do not believe that the MSC certification should apply to the chum fishery in relation to this steelhead return. That’s the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ responsibility. We will make sure that our views are well known to the federal government, as well as taking measures on habitat conservation and restoration that are within the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
FISH FARM TENURES AND WILD SALMON PROTECTION
A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
Under previous governments, open-net fish farms were approved within First Nation territories without adequate consultation or consent, yet our present government claims it’s committed to reconciliation. In Alert Bay, the ’Namgis Nation have lost their once prolific salmon runs. They desperately want fish farms removed from their waters. They’ve been occupying Marine Harvest fish farms since August.
The Swanson fish farm is currently empty, and its tenure is up for review this spring. Yesterday we received notice from the ’Namgis Nation that they believe that Marine Harvest has made final preparations to restock the Swanson farm. The fish food has been delivered, they say, and the bird nets are now in place. They believe that the restock could happen as early as today.
My question to the Minister of Agriculture is this. If Marine Harvest is pumping new smolts into those pens, how will that impact the government’s assessment of their tenure status come June?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Wild salmon are a fundamental part of who we are in B.C. — socially, economically, environmentally, First Nations and non–First Nations alike. The member knows that the old government oversaw declining salmon stocks along our coast. Instead of responding to concerns about fish farms, they pushed the issue aside.
Our government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 great jobs that depend on those stocks. We’re working with First Nations, building a new relationship based on partnership and respect, and we’ve started a path forward with First Nations.
The Leader of the Third Party mentions the ’Namgis First Nation. On January 30, four cabinet ministers had an extensive meeting with the five First Nations who have the most interest in the fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. It was a good meeting, with good dialogue. It was based on the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples principles. We’re planning a follow-up meeting based on a mutually agreed-upon process in a government-to-government manner.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
A. Weaver: Now, I recognize that this is not answer period, but that was so far from the question I’d actually posed. I would have thought we’d get some semblance of a response to a very important issue.
When we reviewed correspondence between DFO and the B.C. government with respect to the steelhead issue, which my colleague raised yesterday and the day before, it was clear that nobody knows who’s on first base with respect to dealing with salmon in British Columbia. And that answer…. We deserve much better in this House.
Alert Bay isn’t the only community where people are worried about open-net fish farms. It’s widely recognized as being a key issue within the web of threats facing our wild salmon populations. We’re beginning to see other jurisdictions, like Washington, take steps. Legislation, unfortunately, didn’t pass but was tabled to actually ban new salmon farms and issuing of new licences in Washington state.
The B.C. NDP have explicitly said that keeping farm sites out of important salmon migration routes is critical. In fact, the member for North Island made a promise to the ’Namgis Nation where she reiterated, in the nation’s big house, that the main reason they should vote B.C. NDP in the last election was to ensure that the fish farms got out of the wild migratory routes of sockeye salmon.
My question to the Minister of Agriculture, who actually grants the tenures, not the Minister of FLNRO….
A. Weaver: Is it FLNRO? Okay. We’ll do FLNRO. I thank the former minister. Maybe my question should be to the former Minister of Agriculture.
The minister has the Advisory Council on Finfish Aquaculture report. When will the government remove farm sites from the wild migration routes of salmon, which they promised they would do and told British Columbians that they needed to elect them to ensure this would happen?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you, I suppose, for that lengthy question. I’ll address the overall issue.
The overall issue is that we’re proceeding with a shared decision-making process with the five First Nations, not just one First Nation, who are concerned about fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. That shared decision-making process incorporates the principle of consent and a government-to-government approach.
That’s the way that we’ll be proceeding. To unilaterally make a declaration in this chamber around the concerns of one First Nation is not the way this government proceeds. We proceed in partnership with First Nations, involving discussions from the start. That’s the way we’ll get to reconciliation in this province.
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.
PROTECTION AND MANAGEMENT OF WILD SALMON AND STEELHEAD
A. Olsen: Every question we asked this week was about steelhead and wild salmon. We haven’t received straight answers to our questions, but we’ve learned a lot. We learned that six distinct ministries, in addition to a federal department, are all co-managing the Interior Fraser steelhead to extinction. There appears to be jurisdictional confusion about who is doing what for salmon.
I don’t doubt this government’s commitment to wild salmon, but I wonder about their ability to make concrete changes when it appears it is being managed off the side of everyone’s desk.
Salmon are resilient. In the Saanich culture, they are our relatives. The health and wellness requires a different relationship, one that we clearly do not yet comprehend.
Given the fact that everybody seems to be in charge, I’d like to direct my question to the Premier. Will your government consider creating a wild salmon commissioner or secretariat to unite and streamline the work being done by government to protect our wild salmon and steelhead relatives?
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for Saanich North and the Islands for the question. He has, I think, characterized fairly effectively the challenge that all of us have in British Columbia with co-management of our iconic salmon species, whether they be steelhead, whether they be chum, whether they be chinook, coho, sockeye and the like. But that challenge didn’t just arrive, hon. Member, as you know, and that challenge will take some time to figure out.
We are working tirelessly on this side of the House, and we have been saying repeatedly to questions, able questions from the Green Party and from those on the other side…. Everyone in British Columbia understands the importance of salmon, not just to our people but to our land. We are going to do our level best to get through the red tape, to understand what Ottawa’s plans are for our salmon species. And we’re going to do our level best to make sure that at the end of the day, the people of British Columbia can have confidence that all levels of government are working in a coordinated way to realize the objective that the member just recognized.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Mr. Premier, for the answer.
We’ve heard a lot of words spoken this week. What we’re proposing, with the line of questioning and with the suggestion that I made in my initial question, is action. I think that it’s a reasonable request that we make of government. When we needed action on climate, we created a secretariat. When we needed to address issues of conflicts of interest, we created a commissioner.
These are examples of where we’ve got multiple ministries working on their files, their distinct files, and we need action across government. That’s why today we are asking the government and suggesting to the government to consider creating a wild salmon secretariat or a commissioner that could do very similar work to bring together, to streamline, all the work that’s being done. That would require adequate funding, of course.
I ask my question, again, to the Premier: would your government consider such a secretariat to coordinate the effort, as he so ably described in his answer to the first question?
Hon. J. Horgan: Again, I appreciate the passion of the member. I know it’s genuine.
In the 1990s, the government of the day created what was called fisheries renewal B.C. to do just what the member has suggested. We need to address habitat restoration upstream. We need to have spawning beds in place so that our salmon have a place to come back to.
There is no shortage of work being done by the minister responsible for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations. The Minister of Agriculture has a role to play as well. I, too, in the intergovernmental relations side, have a role to play with our federal government. I have done the best I can to break through with the federal government so that they can understand that this is not just about scientists in Ottawa. It’s about people in coastal communities. It’s about people who live up the Fraser, people who live up the Nechako, people who live up the Skeena and everywhere in between.
Salmon are British Columbia. The member’s passion is absolutely well placed, and we are going do our level best, working with all sides of this House, to ensure that when we finish our time in this place, salmon are better off than they were when we arrived.
A. Olsen: I’m going to shift the attention in a little different direction here. In a recent letter, the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development highlighted your ministry as having some role, responsibility, in the management of salmon and steelhead.
I’m just wondering if you could explain what role your ministry plays and what funding there is allocated to this. Your ministry came up as being identified as one of the six ministries managing and having a responsibility in this aspect.
Hon. C. Trevena: We’re just working out exactly the different areas that we work because we do quite a lot. We’re very conscious these days of the environmental impact of the ministry. Obviously, we’re involved in major projects that are going to have an environmental impact, so this is something that we’re very concerned about. But there’s both the large and the small scale that the ministry works on. When we are doing a project, we are obviously consulting widely and building environmental safeguards. Whether it is moving a snake habitat or doing something else, there are major things that the ministry will do.
When we’re talking about salmon and steelhead, I think that would come under our environmental enhancement section, where we have a budget of $2.6 million. That’s for things like where you may have had a culvert in the past that has worn down that the fish can’t get through it. We replace that to make sure the fish can get through it. We’re looking at building fish ladders and working in every way that we can to ensure that our infrastructure both protects and enhances the environment.
A. Olsen: I’m just wondering — the recent COSEWIC decision to put the steelhead on the endangered species list. I know that there are several pieces of important highway infrastructure within the Thompson and Fraser rivers and also in Chilcotin. Do you see that this endangered species listing will have any impact on your budgets or how you make decisions in the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in the future?
Hon. C. Trevena: Whenever there are changes, we obviously work to ensure that we are working within changes and to accommodate the change as necessary, because we are, as I say, very aware of environmental issues. I’m happy if the member would like to have a separate conversation about this. I think it came as a bit of a surprise to my staff, right at the end of the morning. I’m happy to have a separate conversation with the member about that.
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.
A. Olsen: Thank you to the member for Nechako Lakes.
To the minister: in the 2017 election campaign, your party committed to implementing the findings of the Cohen commission. One of the primary findings…. There are lots of findings, but one of the findings was about the siting of fish farms.
Being as you make the decisions about tenures and where they’re allowed to anchor to the ocean floor, will this commitment that you’ve made factor into determining whether or not you’ll renew the tenures that are upcoming?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Thanks for the question. When it comes to wild salmon, we’ve made it clear, as a government, that we’re very focused on the protection of wild salmon in migratory routes.
Now, I have to point out that the primary decision of the siting of aquaculture activities, such as open-net fish farms in the water, is the federal government. We have jurisdiction through the Land Act over the anchoring and provincial jurisdiction over seabed and land access to the sites.
In the bigger scheme of things, that is a minor jurisdictional authority compared to the primary authority over the siting and the choosing of the sites, which is a federal responsibility. That’s why we’ve been working to get the federal government involved to a greater degree than they are at this moment.
A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the answer. There is some authority that the provincial government has that it could exert, based on the vision that the minister, the Premier and other ministers of this government have stated — a commitment to wild salmon.
Clearly, the responsibility that the minister’s ministry has on tenures isn’t a non-authority. There is some authorization that the province is required to give, or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Can the minister explain that? It appears that there’s an ability for us, as a province, to grant tenures to anchor to the ocean floor. While the federal government has the main authority for where it’s sited, what role do we have?
Hon. D. Donaldson: I’ll try to lay this out to the member as best I can.
Once a decision is made for siting in a general sense by the federal government, then we have the ability through our tenure system, through the Land Act, to work with the federal government to make minor relocation decisions and conditions — for instance, how close to a fish stream one of these facilities is actually anchored once the general site is determined. We can issue conditions around where the attachments to the land or the anchors in the water are located.
Those are the kinds of authorities we have under the Land Act, under my ministry, when it comes to the actual siting of the fish farms, but the major decision authority is with the federal government about where they’re located.
A. Olsen: So the ministry cannot…. Essentially, then, the ministry must grant renewal of these tenures if the federal government has licensed them and chosen the site?
Hon. D. Donaldson: We, as in the province, under the Land Act under this ministry, are not compelled to grant a renewal. That’s up to the statutory decision–maker, who can grant a renewal or not grant a renewal. But we do have, under the act, the ability to make mitigative measures. If the anchoring is going to cause what our scientists decide is environmental damage, we can insist, through conditions, on mitigative measures that will avoid that environmental damage as a direct result of the anchoring process.
That’s the level of jurisdiction and of decision-making that’s split between the federal government and the provincial government on this topic.
A. Olsen: The minister’s party was very clear that they would ensure that the salmon farming industry does not endanger wild salmon by implementing the recommendations of the Cohen Commission, keeping farmsites out of important salmon migration routes and supporting research and transparent monitoring to minimize the risks of disease transfer from captive wild salmon.
That was the commitment. There’s science that’s coming forward pretty clearly from the strategic salmon health initiative that there is disease in the Johnstone Strait fish farms and that they threaten the wild salmon fisheries — as in the commitment and a commitment to the Cohen Commission.
Presumably, the government — specifically, this ministry — could use its authority over the tenures to enforce what was said during the campaign and enforce providing safety to the Fraser River sockeye.
Hon. D. Donaldson: The member is accurate in saying that the tool that we have at our disposal is the Land Act when it comes to how tenure is granted through the province and that it’s not the tool that addresses the siting. That’s within the federal government jurisdiction. We’ve been able to connect with the federal government on this. We’re not happy that we haven’t been able to connect enough at the minister level and the minister responsible. They need to step up on recommendations around the Cohen, and we’re willing to work with them on that.
What we’re trying to achieve in meeting with First Nations who have concerns around fish farms is getting to certainty and getting to reconciliation and using a consent-based process to do that.
This particular topic we’re discussing here, around the replacement of tenure, is an operational consultation. It’s something that a statutory decision–maker has within a very limited framework. That’s what’s underway, as well, with our ministry, with the 20-odd tenures that are coming up at the end of June.
A. Olsen: I believe it’s happened in the past where government has created a policy that provided direction to the statutory decision–maker as to the vision and the direction the government was deciding to go.
I understand that the statutory decision–maker makes the decision about whether or not a certain item, a certain net or operation, can be tied to the ocean floor, but the statutory decision–maker makes those decisions under the direction of the government, of the ministry.
Am I correct in this statement — that the ministry could and the minister could create a policy that no new salmon farm applications will be considered and no renewals will be given due to the Cohen Commission; that if wild salmon are going to be threatened by the fish farm industry, they would be moved; and that under that, this government’s not going to renew these fish farms because of the threat that it poses to wild salmon?
Hon. D. Donaldson: That scenario is not what we could do under the Land Act. What the member is bringing up is overall aquaculture policy, and that’s something that’s under the purview of the Minister of Agriculture. But under the Land Act, the legal obligations are very defined. Under the Land Act, there’s no ability to undertake what the member has pointed out.
I have some answers from a previous question, if you just give me an opportunity, Member. Thank you very much. The critic asked about the number of shellfish aquaculture tenures. There are 468 aquaculture sites, and those are licensed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in our waters. On the licence length that is possible under the federal legislation for those kinds of activities, the maximum term of that licence is nine years.
A. Olsen: Just to clarify this and get this correct. If the Minister of Agriculture creates an aquaculture policy directing the government to follow the commitments to the Cohen Commission, should it be determined that wild salmon be threatened by the finfish aquaculture industry, then the minister of this ministry — Forests, Lands — can direct the statutory decision–maker to not proceed with granting tenure renewals.
Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you for the question. Under the Land Act, we have legal obligations and can’t fetter, can’t be seen to fetter, the statutory decision–maker. So that’s not the tool that the member is getting at.
There could be policy created by the Ministry of Agriculture when it comes to finfish aquaculture. But again, it’s the federal government that issues the finfish licences. So it would take…. Any kind of policy that the Minister of Agriculture is interested in pursuing in connection to the finfish aquaculture is dependent on the federal government taking the same direction and being on board.
A. Olsen: Okay. I understand all that. I understand that the federal government’s got its finfish aquaculture policy and it creates the siting and it grants licences. But we can also stand up for wild salmon, or we could also decide as a province that we’re not going to allow nets to be attached to the ocean floor, correct?
However, the government has to determine, whether it be through the Minister of Agriculture or another ministry…. We have the ability to say: “No, you can’t attach that to the ocean floor.”
Hon. D. Donaldson: If there’s some type of environmental harm directly related to the anchoring process or whether it’s underwater or on land or there are considerations of moving the finfish farm because it is in too close proximity to a stream on land, those are the kinds of conditions that can be placed through the statutory decision–maker. But again, the overall authority when it comes to aquaculture is with the federal government.
I understand this can be frustrating to some people. I just have to give a little history. Because it was so frustrating to many people under the previous government, a court case was launched by concerned parties. The result of that court case was that in 2009, federal jurisdiction became the primary jurisdiction governing aquaculture industry in B.C. waters. That was unfortunate.
Directly as a result of the ignoring of concerns, some of which you have mentioned, we lost control, because of the court case, over much of what you’re talking about.
A. Olsen: I guess part of the confusion that’s created is the commitments that were made in the election that we were going to get a certain type of policy — policy that implements the recommendations of the Cohen commission, policy that keeps fish farm sites out of important salmon migration routes. All of this was created with the understanding that perhaps this government would have a different approach and, bringing it back to the budget, that we would be looking at other sources of revenue and other opportunities than finfish aquaculture. That would be the expectation, I think, of British Columbians when it came to this government.
What I’m hearing right now is that, in fact, that’s not what is possible — what was suggested in that commitment. Is that correct?
Hon. D. Donaldson: This government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the migratory routes. What is the issue here that you’re bringing up is that the replacement of tenures is not the tool to address concerns that people might have around the impact of fish farms on wild salmon. The replacement-of-tenure process is a process under the Land Act that a statutory decision–maker undertakes.
We are very concerned about wild salmon and protecting the health of wild salmon. The Cohen commission recommendations — the province has acted on a number of them. A number of them are still in the federal government’s court. But the tool to get there is not the tenure replacement process.
A. Olsen: Yeah, you have to, I guess, excuse me then, because I…. The frustration here is that on one hand, I’ve been told, with the tenures, from other ministries: this is the place to come. I’ve been with the Minister of Agriculture, and I’ll be going to other ministries as well, but I was led to believe — and, in fact, have been told — that this was one of the tools that was at the disposal of the provincial government.
That is, I think, where the frustration and the confusion is coming up in this ministry. It was that the government — Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development — is going to be making decisions about the tenures for these 20 licences which the federal government has already granted.
The expectation and the confusion in the public is…. There’s an expectation that the minister actually has a decision-making authority on the future of those farms. Indeed, I think one of the fish farms that we met with had that same expectation, so perhaps some clarification is needed. We keep getting “Go to this ministry” or “Go to that ministry” on this. I think that’s where some of the confusion is.
Hon. D. Donaldson: I agree. In the public, there is a perception that the province has way more jurisdiction over aquaculture activities than, in fact, is reality, especially when it comes to tenure renewal through the Land Act. Aquaculture licensing is primarily a federal responsibility.
However, I have read the transcripts the member had with the Minister of Agriculture in her estimates. What she pointed out…. Maybe this will help alleviate some of the confusion. I don’t want the member to get the feeling that he’s been given the runaround: “Go ask this ministry. Go ask that ministry.”
This ministry, when it comes to legal obligations, has the ability, during these estimates, to answer questions about tenure renewal under the Land Act. I have also been charged by the Premier to be the coordinator when it comes to the process that we’ve embarked upon with six First Nations around finfish, Atlantic salmon, open-net aquaculture in the Broughton Archipelago. That, perhaps, is where the member heard from the Minister of Agriculture to refer questions to myself when it comes to that particular topic.
A. Olsen: If, in fact, the provincial government has, say, 10 percent or 2 percent of the decision-making of this — whatever it is today — why is it that the provincial government is leading on that relationship? It leads with the First Nations. It leads the public to believe that the provincial government has more authority than is being expressed here today. If the federal government owns everything, why is the federal government not leading that? Why are they sitting in the back of the room as an observer?
Hon. D. Donaldson: What an excellent question and an excellent observation. We have been asked by First Nations to become involved, and to further reconciliation, we have. It’s something that they’ve asked previous governments, and previous governments haven’t been getting involved to the extent that we have.
We have been successful in bringing Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff to meetings that we’ve had with the six First Nations, who we met with on January 30, and we have ongoing efforts.
It’s an excellent question. This is primarily…. The member quoted right. I would say it’s 90 percent federal jurisdiction as a result of that court case in 2009. So far, I think the federal government is not living up to that majority decision-making authority that they have. We’re continually in touch and trying to bring them to the table more.
In relation to the member’s question, the reason we’re involved is that the First Nations who have concerns asked us to get involved.