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Salmon farming centre in British Columbia. (Photo: B.C. Salmon Farmers Association)

BC shows wait-and-see attitude to Washington's decision on salmon aquaculture

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Monday, March 05, 2018, 23:50 (GMT + 9)

British Columbia First Nations expect to see the provincial government follow Washington state Senate’s step and also give the green light to phase out Atlantic salmon net pen farming ban.

“Here in British Columbia, the vast majority of First Nations are very clear in their opposition to the operation of open net cage fish farms,” said Bob Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, CTV News reported.

Chamberlin said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is supposed to have a precautionary principle under the Fisheries Act, something he feels is being disregarded amid concerns about diseases in fish farms.

“It’s time for the precautionary principle to be made real, stood up, embraced, and then enacted, and look to see this industry evolve, like every other industry has, to land-based closed containment,” he said.

Washington’s bill was proposed after tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from an open net pen fish farm belonging to Cooke Aquaculture last August.

The company has expressed disappointment in the legislature’s decision, a sentiment echoed by industry advocates in British Columbia.

“We think this is a decision based on emotion stemming from a major incident in the summer,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “We think a better approach would have been to strengthen regulations and allow the operator to invest significantly in their operations.”

However, According to Dunn, BC’s fish farming industry is vastly different from Washington’s.

“Our members have invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years on new pen equipment, new netting equipment, and new marine designs to ensure that our farms are able to withstand the highest seas and the highest currents at every location that they’re sited,” the leader pointed out.

Dunn said fewer than 100 fish escape from all farms in British Columbia each year, a number he said has “no impact” on the local environment in the province.

However, Chamberlin and others express concern that salmon that escape from farms can spread diseases to wild fish they come in contact with.

Currently, the vast majority of farmed salmon in British Columbia is farmed in open net pens, and Dunn’s organization cites studies conducted by various governments that have concluded closed-containment fish farms are not yet commercially viable for large scale production.

Dunn declined to speculate about how Washington’s salmon farming industry would adjust to the new rules, but he said Atlantic salmon are by far the most commonly farmed fish in the world. While some farmers raise species of salmon native to the Pacific Ocean, Dunn said, most of the global demand for salmon is for the Atlantic variety.

Related article:

 - Washington legislators approve Atlantic salmon farming ban

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