Fish Farming Moratorium Lifted in British Columbia

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Canada, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - New environmental standards and practices will allow for lifting of the five year ban on new salmon aquaculture operations in British Columbia as of April 30, the British Columbia government announced today. The David Suzuki Foundation, a Vancouver based environmental group, said the move means "business at any cost comes first" and warned that the environment is being sacrificed.

The Suzuki Foundation supports "ecologically responsible" aquaculture that does not pollute or allow farmed species to escape, damaging habitat for native wild species.

The provincial government promised, "Improved and new policies for fish escapes, fish health, siting and relocations, fish waste and research and development have been developed" and will be finalized by April 30.

"The high operating standards proposed by government, along with improved practices, will protect the environment and allow the industry to expand in a sustainable and responsible manner," said John van Dongen, minister of agriculture, food and fisheries. "For more than four years, government has exhaustively reviewed the scientific work done on the salmon aquaculture issue."

van Dongen

John van Dongen, minister of agriculture, food and fisheries (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
In 1995, the previous government placed a moratorium on new marine salmon farm tenures. An Environmental Assessment Office scientific review, completed in 1997, was the most rigorous and costly in the history of the province, said van Dongen. It concluded that, as practiced, the risks of salmon aquaculture to the environment were low. The review made 49 recommendations that would further reduce risks of salmon aquaculture, all of which were accepted in full by government and industry.

Since October 1999, the government has worked toward implementing policies that will result in the most comprehensive regime of any jurisdiction in the world for managing the salmon aquaculture industry.

"Our government understands that British Columbians expect our environment to be protected and industry to be in full compliance with strict standards," said Joyce Murray, minister of water, land and air protection. "This industry will be managed in a responsible manner."

But Lynn Hunter, aquaculture specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation, is not satisfied with that assurance. "Premier [Gordon] Campbell made a choice today and it's not for wild salmon or for the health of B.C.'s coast," she said. "With this decision, it is clear that this government is only interested in pleasing a handful of multinational businesses without regard for the interests of all British Columbians and our environment."

fish farm

A fish farm in Campbell River, British Columbia. (Photo courtesy Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
With the lifting of the moratorium, the aquaculture industry is preparing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the province Anne McMullin, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said today.

McMullin estimates that B.C. salmon farmers will invest C$50 to $60 million annually over the next 10 years while generating as many 8,000 new, full time jobs, largely in coastal areas of the province.

"We intend to grow at a relatively modest rate of 10 new farms per year, which will roughly double the industry's current footprint within a decade," McMullin said. "Along the way we expect to invest $500 - $600 million in B.C.'s coastal communities, while building an industry that generates $2.4 billion in economic activity every year."

"As with forestry and mining, the government's move to performance based regulations that are monitored by industry is very worrisome," said Otto Langer, the foundation's director of marine conservation and a registered professional biologist who worked for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for over 30 years.


Salmon aquaculture (Photo courtesy B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association)
Salmon farming in B.C. uses open net cages that float in the ocean, permitting uneaten food pellets and feces to enter the marine environment. Most of the fish farmed are introduced Atlantic salmon, which are now reproducing in the wild because so many have escaped, the foundation has warned for years.

"This is a decision that will lead to the decline of the health of marine life on the B.C. coast," Langer said.

B.C. Minister of Sustainable Resource Management Stan Hagen, said, "This decision will provide the opportunity for careful and sustainable growth of aquaculture in our hard-hit coastal communities."

Applications for new aquaculture sites will be accepted after April 30, and are expected to take up to a year to process. Since aquaculture has a long production cycle, businesses need to make decisions now for production to begin by 2003.