Researcher pushes Premier Gordon Campbell on fish farms

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      One of B.C.'s leading fish-farm critics believes Premier Gordon Campbell needs to come clean on where he stands on the issue of coastal farmed salmon.

      Biologist Alexandra Morton told the Straight the premier is “ducking the issue” during the election campaign and won't answer her questions. Morton, based in Sointula, B.C., also said she has gathered more than 13,000 signatures from people concerned about the survival of wild salmon in the face of expanded industrial farmed net pens.

      “Twenty years ago, fish farms moved into my community,” Morton said of Echo Bay, just off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. “I thought they were a good idea. My community is completely wiped out and we have 27 fish farms. I live in another coastal community now, Sointula.”

      In February, Morton won a B.C. Supreme Court case that declared fish farms as “fisheries” and transferred control from the provincial to the federal government. Justice Christopher Hinkson also suspended the transfer of power for a year as the two jurisdictions work out the details.

      Marine Harvest Canada Inc., codefendant in the case, announced in a March 9 news release that it is seeking leave to appeal the ruling, citing concerns that Hinkson's findings “did not recognize private property rights of salmon farmers”.

      But according to Morton, the provincial government has also sought “appearance” alongside Marine Harvest, giving the government the option to pursue the appeal as codefendants should it wish to appoint counsel in the case.

      “I don't think they want to publicly appeal fish farms because I don't think they want to be seen in the company of fish farms during this election,” Morton claimed. “They've actually reserved themselves a place in court to fight this decision. I would imagine the fish-farm industry put pressure on them to do that. I just came from Ottawa last week and talked to MPs and senators and they all had one question: what is Gordon Campbell doing?”

      So far Morton said she has not received a reply that addresses what Campbell will do if reelected on May 12: will he pursue the appeal or abide by the original decision?

      To “help everybody out”, Morton said she has asked Fisheries Minister Gail Shea—in a letter included with the petition—to enforce the Fisheries Act in three simple steps: demand that the farms turn off the grow lights; licence all packers; and check the bycatch.

      “Bycatch in this case would be fish that have gone into their pens and are in there and getting killed during harvest or getting eaten by their [farmed] fish,” Morton said. “These are three really simple things that all of the fishermen in British Columbia and all of Canada abide by. No answer.”

      The premier's executive assistant, Bridgitte Anderson, would not make him available for an interview. Calls to Marine Harvest Canada were not returned by deadline.