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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cohen Commission recommendations gather dust while salmon farm applications keep on coming

By now there must be half an inch of dust atop the Cohen Commission’s report on the plight of the Fraser River sockeye as it languishes on some forgotten bookshelf in an Ottawa backroom. How else to explain the total disregard for the commission’s findings? Surely the salmon farmers’ recollections of Justice Cohen’s recommendations have grown hazy since 2012 when the findings were released. Stewart Hawthorn, the Managing Director of Grieg Seafood BC, wrote in a letter to the Campbell River Mirror that the Cohen report “provides further evidence that salmon farming and wild salmon stocks can live well together.” Well, not quite. The government closed the Discovery Islands to increased finfish aquaculture until at least 2020 due to concerns that open net-pen salmon farms were impacting Fraser River sockeye migrating through this area.

No matter. Mr. Hawthorn’s letter was an invitation to an open house his company was holding to promote two new salmon farm applications in Clio Channel in the Broughton Archipelago. The Discovery Islands are immediately south of the Broughton; the same fish pass through both areas. The letter invited readers “to come and meet our staff, ask questions and provide comments.”
Proposed site of new Grieg Seafood salmon farms.
On the afternoon of February 10th over 70 people from the small village of Sointula decided to take Mr. Hawthorn up on his offer. They got into a whale watching boat and crossed Broughton Strait to stand shoulder to shoulder in a small room in a Port McNeill hotel where Grieg Seafood was holding the open house. Also at the open house were representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the British Columbia government. I wouldn’t go so far as to say things got out of hand, but the Sointulians were not pleased about the idea of Grieg cramming about one million farmed salmon into 26 net-cages, each measuring three by 30 metres, into a channel less than 1.5 km wide that serves as a migration route for wild salmon smolts heading to the ocean.
The Grieg Seafood open house in Port McNeill was well attended by coastal residents opposed to more open net-cage salmon farms.
Maybe Mr. Hawthorn’s staff weren’t expecting folks would actually show up to get a few things off their chests. But there are a lot of people in the Broughton that depend on a healthy ocean to make their living. And there are already 29 open net-cage salmon farms in the archipelago dumping feces, fish food and sea lice into the ocean. People from Sointula know what the score is and what’s at stake.

One fishermen at the meeting asked why Grieg was allowed to kill off the wild salmon for free. Another pointed out that the existing farms are essentially unregulated by DFO. Someone else pointed out that the drugs Grieg uses to kill sea lice in the farms also kill prawns and shrimp. A nearby lodge owner said that the farms are turning the area into an industrial zone. You get the idea. One woman summed the mood up nicely: “Put your damned farms on land or go back to Norway!”

Now you can weigh in too. Here’s the situation in a nutshell. Grieg Seafood want to convert two shellfish aquaculture tenures to salmon farms. No environmental impact assessment of the two new farms has been done, even though finfish farms have very different impacts from shellfish farms. This is the first time that the salmon farming industry has asked to transfer tenures from shellfish to finfish. If they are granted approval it could open the floodgates to other shellfish tenures being converted to salmon farms—and there are a lot of unused shellfish tenures on the B.C. coast right now.

The proposed salmon farms are close to intertidal shellfish beds that are exposed to water flows from the farms. These clam beds are important to First Nations and others in the area.
We have reviewed the applications and feel strongly that they should not be approved for a number of reasons including that they do not comply with the government’s own criteria:
  • The farms would be too close to salmon bearing streams, vital herring spawning areas, and shellfish beds. 
  • They are also in close proximity to not only one another but also an already established salmon farm  at Bennett Point, which could create navigational issues in Clio Channel.
DFO admits there are gaps in its knowledge regarding finfish aquaculture, such as the effects from pesticides, antifoulants, disinfectants, drugs within feces and risk of pathogen transfer to wild fish. Herring spawning in this area are vital to the rich ecosystem, supporting whales, seals, birds, fish, etc. that in turn support the economies of Sointula and other northern Vancouver Island communities with industries like wildlife viewing, kayaking, boating, diving as well as recreational and commercial fishing.

We’ve laid out our argument in an action alert on the Living Oceans web site. You’ll see links there to the B.C. government’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations web site where you can submit your thoughts about Grieg’s new farms before February 24th. You can also send a message to Grieg from the action alert directly if you’d like to get a few things off your chest.