Chefs ask B.C. NDP government to protect wild salmon by stopping open-net aquaculture

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      The B.C. NDP campaigned on a pledge to protect wild salmon.

      Now in government, New Democrats have the power to fulfill that promise, and chefs have a recipe for an initial step.

      A group of more than 50 chefs has called on the province not to renew tenures of open net salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago.

      They say in a letter to the government that 20 of these leases coming up for renewal in June this year.

      “The science is clear: these farms host parasites and viruses, amplify these harmful contagions and spread them to wild fish, compounding the other threats salmon face,” states the letter addressed to Doug Donaldson and Lana Popham, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and Minister of Agriculture, respectively.

      During the campaign, the B.C. NDP promised to keep farm sites out of important salmon migration routes. New Democrats also pledged to help the aquaculture industry transition from open-net pen farming to closed containment pens.

      Five of the chefs, who signed the letter, held a media conference Thursday (April 5) in downtown Vancouver with environmentalist David Suzuki.

      Before the event started, Suzuki told the Georgia Straight that it’s now up for the B.C. NDP to make good on their promise to protect wild salmon.

      But given the NDP’s record regarding the Site C dam project, which the government allowed to proceed, Suzuki seems to have some doubts.

      “The problem we have with the NDP, they were against Site C, the dam on the Peace River, but they still are focused on workers, right?” Suzuki said. “So the workers on Site C put a lot of pressure on them. They say, ‘Look, so many jobs will be lost if you cancel it’. The same thing with the fish farmers; they say there’s 6,000 workers here, you can’t just cancel it now because loss of jobs.”

      Environmentalist David Suzuki said that the aquaculture industry should transition to contained pens.

      David Hawksworth, who hosted the event at his Hawksworth Restaurant, noted at the media conference that dining establishments depend on the bounty of the land and oceans for their success.

      “Our goal is to create awareness on the serious detriment that these farms are causing to wild salmon stocks, and to demand our government to do more to protect our wild salmon,” Hawksworth said.

      Robert Clark of The Fish Counter said that fish farming does not need to be done in open-net pens.

      “We just need the political will to be able to say, ‘Yes. Enough is enough. Let’s get those fish into closed containment and protect our wild B.C. salmon’,” Clark said.

      Jeremy Belcourt with Salmon n’ Bannock noted that wild salmon is important for him as an indigenous person.

      “Any threats or risks to the well-being of wild salmon stocks through these fish farms are a form of colonialism,” Belcourt said.

      HidekazuTojo of Tojo’s recalled that he has been serving wild salmon for many years to local and international customers.

      “We need to do what we can do to make sure that wild Pacific salmon stocks can thrive for generations,” Tojo said.

      Meeru Dhalwala with Vij’s and Rangoli said that she wants to focus on educating people.

      “We need to start connecting the dots in terms of getting more people in here, and people feeling that, ‘You know what? I have enough knowledge and I have enough participation, and I feel as if I’m a part of this,” Dhalwala said.

      Ernest Alfred, a hereditary chief with the ‘Namgis First Nation, was present at the event. A number of his people have occupied a Marine Harvest Canada fish farm on Swanson Island since August last year.

      Alfred said: “I’m going to challenge people today. Don’t just ask, ‘Is it farmed salmon?’ Get up and walk out. Tell them, ‘Take it off the menu’. Tell them, ‘Take it off the shelf’ in the grocery store. It’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable what they’re doing to our people. It’s not acceptable what they’re doing to our environment.”

      Ernest Alfred, a hereditary chief with the ‘Namgis First Nation, points to Swanson Island where a number of his people had occupied a fish farm since August last year.

      Ian Roberts, a spokesperson with Marine Harvest, told the Straight in a phone interview that salmon farming is safe.

      “There had been multiple reviews in British Columbia about our potential impact on the ocean and fish, and no review has ever pointed to salmon farming as having a detrimental effect to our environment,” Roberts said. “But this doesn’t mean we rest. We’re always improving our operations.”

      According to Roberts, Suzuki and the chefs are welcome to visit and tour the fish farms.

      “It’s disappointing to our members that David Suzuki and some chefs in Vancouver have formed an opinion that we feel is based on, at best, anecdotal information that is 20 to 30 years old,” he said.

      Roberts also added that there are no successful commercial-scale land-based salmon farms anywhere in the world.

      In 2012, Justice Bruce Cohen, who headed a federal commission into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, released a final report.

      Cohen reported: “I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish, and I am satisfied that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.”