Today I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with a large group of individuals concerned about the plight of our Pacific wild salmon stocks. They included Alexandra Morton, who many will know from the documentary Salmon Confidential, Stan Porboszcz from Watershed Watch, Karen Wristen from Living Oceans Society, Sabra Woodworth from Salmon Are Sacred, Eddie Gardner from the Skwah First Nation, Jefferey Young from the David Suzuki Foundation, Torrance Coste from Wilderness Committee, Dr. Jeff Matthews, president of Sea Shepherd Canada, Bonny Glambeck from Clayoquot Action, Joseph Martin from the Tla-o-qui-aht First nation council, and Dawn Morrison from the Indigenous Food System Network.
I was afforded the honour of introducing a petition by 108,848 people who are asking the government to please not issue licences of occupation to salmon farms trying to expand in British Columbia. I also introduced a second petition signed by more than 100 business organizations across the province who supported the individuals who signed the larger petition. The business organizations argued that they are convinced by the published scientific evidence that open net salmon farms are a threat to B.C. wild pacific salmon.
Finally, in Question period I explored what steps (if any) government is taking to stop the expansion of open-pen fish farms on sockeye salmon migration routes. Below I provide videos and text of my exchange with the Minister of Agriculture as well as my submission of the petitions.
I have made it a practice to always give government my initial question so I can get an informed response. I do not provide my supplementary question as it will depend on the Minister’s response. The Minister has promised me a more substantive answer to my questions in the coming weeks. I very much look forward to receiving the information.
A. Weaver: The Cohen commission recommended that fish farms not be located on sockeye salmon migration routes, yet this week millions of sockeye fry will be migrating past fish farms in the Discovery Passage and Broughton Archipelago.
Scientific research has suggested a link between fish farm lice outbreaks and the spread of diseases like the piscine reovirus, salmonid alphavirus and the infectious salmon anemia virus The spread, obviously, of such diseases would have grave environmental, cultural and economic consequences for the province of British Columbia, let alone Canada.
Finally, a first in North America, the ‘Namgis Nation on northern Vancouver Island is farming Atlantic salmon at a land-based facility without posing any disease or sea lice threat to wild salmon.
To the Minister of Agriculture: what is the government doing to stop the expansion of open-pen fish farms in the ocean and to promote the creation of more operations like the one the ‘Namgis Nation operates?
Hon. N. Letnick: Thank you to the member opposite for the question. Our government is committed to the socially and ecologically responsible management of B.C. fisheries, including an environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture industry for the benefit of all British Columbians.
We place the health of all wild fisheries, including salmon, as paramount. That’s why the government works with our federal counterparts and aquaculture operators to monitor for diseases and is prepared to implement a prompt, coordinated and science-based response if necessary.
I want to remind the members opposite that the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that the jurisdiction of licensing is that of the federal government and tenures is that of the provincial government.
The approval for licensing on the federal government side is quite high. They look for applications that can be rejected for anything to do with biotoxins, water quality, impacts to the environment, impacts to spawning areas, cumulative impact to fisheries and impact to navigable waters.
It’s also very high on the province’s role. We accept Land Act applications for new salmon aquaculture sites from companies that demonstrate world-class standards for resource sustainability.
A. Weaver: Thank you to the minister for referring to the Supreme Court ruling, which in fact, actually, ensures that the province continues to retain jurisdiction over issuing land tenures that designate the area a fish farm will occupy.
Although section 8 of the Land Use Operational Policy for Aquaculture cites the provincial government’s sustainability principles as informing leasing decisions, current operating practices indicate these values are not being adequately applied.
Earlier this month the federal court ruled against an aquaculture licence condition that allowed diseased fish to be transferred into open-pen fish farms, and DFO — that’s federal, of course — has been given four months to fix this policy. Nevertheless, there remains provincial jurisdiction.
Given that we currently lack the regulations needed to verify the presence and control the spread of pathogens in farmed salmon, will the Minister of Agriculture today commit to stop granting new licences of occupation for this industry on sockeye salmon migration routes?
Hon. N. Letnick: Again, I have to repeat that the government is committed to the socially and ecologically responsible management of B.C. fisheries. That’s why we employ two of the outstanding experts in fish biology right here in British Columbia. That’s why we have the great lab in Abbotsford, to make sure we continue testing for fish diseases.
The federal government is conducting a surveillance program on ISA, as the member has said, and the status of three viruses on the west coast — ISA, IHN and PRV. So far all results were negative, no virus.
When we look at IHN, they tested a total of 1,300 B.C. wild salmon and trout for IHN in 2012-2013. Again, all were negative, no virus.
Sea lice are native to B.C. waters, like many other wild animals which have a population cycle trend. What they find is the more that come during one season, the more potential for sea lice in the following season.
Once again, we take very seriously our role in the provision of licensing and also in tenuring. We will continue to hold those values very high to make sure that our wild salmon are protected in British Columbia.
On Thursday, May 28, the Minister of Agriculture rose in the house to clarify and correct a response he gave me above. I am very grateful to the Minister for correcting the record. Below is the text of his clarification.
Hon. N. Letnick: Yesterday during question period in an effort to condense my answer to a member’s question, I accidentally grouped PRV with ISA and IHN. I just want to make sure I put on the record the correct answer. What I would like to clarify to the House regarding PRV, or piscine reovirus, is that many reoviruses are viruses without a disease. To date PRV is common in B.C. farmed fish and some wild fish, but it’s not associated with any disease.
Indeed, published scientific evidence indicates that PRV predates the introduction of salmon farming to our province. Some scientists think PRV is the cause of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation, HSMI, a disease that affects farmed Atlantic salmon in Europe. Recent research shows that the type of PVR in Europe is different from the type of PRV in B.C. Lastly, HSMI does not occur in British Columbia.
Thank you for allowing me to clear up the record.
I would like to present a petition on this — probably the most irresponsible fiscal decision the government has ever made — day in the B.C. Legislature.
This is a petition by 108,848 people who are asking the government to please not issue licences of occupation to salmon farms trying to expand in British Columbia. The rationale for that I outlined in question period.
This petition very clearly identifies the wishes of British Columbians. This petition, I hope, is listened to by the government of British Columbia.
A. Weaver: I have a second petition.
Now this is a petition of over 100 business organizations across the province who are essentially supporting the 109,000 individuals who signed this. These business organizations are small business, umbrella organizations, environmental organizations, fly fishing organizations, river societies, sail societies— numerous societies across British Columbia.
They are asking that the following: we the undersigned are convinced by the published scientific evidence that open net salmon farms are a threat to B.C. wild pacific salmon.