Can John Cummins and B.C. Conservative MLA John van Dongen agree on fish farming?
B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins and his party's new MLA, John van Dongen, were very chummy yesterday in front of the media.
And why not? Van Dongen, a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister, had crossed the floor to the B.C. Conservatives just in time for crucial April 29 by-elections in Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody–Coquitlam.
As I watched the televised news coverage last night, I was left with a question: how will these two fast friends get along when it comes to fish farming?
In 2003 as a member of the Commons fisheries committee, Cummins wrote a dissenting report attacking the federal role in aquaculture.
Here's part of what Cummins had to say on the issue:
Fish farms operations lay waste to the fish habitat in the vicinity of a farm, with food and fish wastes. Chemical therapeutants contained in the fish food are regularly introduced into the marine environment without any real knowledge of the their impact and without any regulatory framework established under the Fisheries Act. For example, sea lice are a serious problem for farm operations on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, yet no drug has ever been licensed for general use. Emergency Drug Release procedures have been continually relied upon in the absence of an licensed drug.
The current drug of choice, emamectin usually marketed under the trade name Slice, can legally be acquired for emergency use only. In Canada the Emergency Drug Release procedures were used 156 times in 2001 and 170 times in 2002. In British Columbia alone hundreds of millions of fish have been treated under the emergency procedures by a drug that has never undergone an environmental assessment with regard to its effect on wild fish and shell.
Very little information is available on the environmental fate and ecological effects of the drug in the marine environment. The organisms most likely to be affected by emamectin are those closely associated with the sediments below the net pens as the drug has low water solubility and a high potential to be absorbed and bound to suspended particulate material. Much of the emamectin reaching the sediments will be associated with particulate material in the form of fish faeces and uneaten fish food. It remains in the sediments for a considerable period of time, having a half life (i.e. the time taken for the concentration to diminish by 50 percent) of around 175 days. It is likely to prove hazardous to shellfish.
As B.C.'s minister of agriculture, food and fisheries, van Dongen was the cabinet minister who lifted the provincial moratorium on fish farms in 2002.
In a widely distributed opinion editorial, van Dongen contradicted some of the points made by Cummins in his later report:
Here's part of what van Dongen wrote in that piece:
The following are the facts about the claims made by those opposed to fish farm expansion.
“Fish farms are havens for massive outbreaks of disease.”
In fact, there is no recorded instance in B.C. of bacterial or viral disease moving from farmed salmon to wild stocks. Diseases like IHN are a threat to production but pose a very low risk to wild stocks and absolutely no risk to human health. As well, all smolts put into fish farms are inspected to be free from the virus.
“Atlantic salmon escape and have been demonstrated to spawn in our rivers, thus displacing native species.”/em>
The reality is that from 1905 to 1935, more than 8.6 million Atlantic salmon of various ages were intentionally introduced into more than 60 B.C. lakes and streams to establish an Atlantic salmon fishery, but even though a few mature sea-run Atlantics were captured in the Cowichan River, a self-sustaining population failed to materialize. Recent environmental assessments by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office conclude the risk of Atlantic salmon colonization in the Pacific Northwest is low. Recent studies indicate Atlantic salmon have spawned in B.C. waters and their progeny can survive. But their presence simply confirms what’s been known since the early 1900s—Atlantic salmon are capable of producing offspring in the wild, but self-sustaining exotic populations of Atlantic salmon have not materialized anywhere in the world.
“Farms produce massive numbers of sea lice that kill migrating wild salmon smolts and attack adults when they return to spawn.”
Wild salmon populations are very volatile, and dramatic changes in abundance occur naturally. There are natural cycles of sea lice in wild stocks. Fish farmers do not want lice-laden fish, so they address any instances of sea lice immediately. Fish farmers do not let sea lice accumulate on their fish—t’s not good business. If an outbreak occurs, their fish veterinarians can take steps to eradicate it. Farmed fish are under constant scrutiny to ensure high health stand
In 2003, Cummins argued that under Canada's constitution, the federal government should have jurisdiction over aquaculture.
This position was rejected by the B.C. Liberal government until the courts ruled otherwise.
"Ensuring that fish farms do not harm wild fish and their habitat will be difficult," Cummins wrote in 2003. "It has not been easy or always successful in Norway, Scotland and Ireland but they at least no longer deny there is a problem. They are addressing the problem."
He contrasted that with a federal approach that was "corrupted by an aquaculture development strategy whose mission has turned it into a vehicle for aquaculture promotion".
One of B.C.'s greatest promoters of aquaculture in the past decade—and deniers of any problems associated with this industry—has been the new B.C. Conservative MLA for Abbotsford South, none other than John van Dongen.
Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows.
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