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Marine Harvest continues wild salmon research

With B.C. aboriginal and environmental groups clambering for an end to salmon farming, one of the biggest players in the sector, Marine Harvest, is reminding the public that it has been quietly supporting wild salmon research for two years.

“In 2010, Marine Harvest, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada partnered to begin research into wild salmon health and migratory patterns in the Discovery Islands area,” says Clare Backman, Director of Sustainable Programs at Marine Harvest Canada (MHC). “We look forward to expanding on our past support to do further research into the baseline health of wild salmon and the potential interactions with our salmon farms.”

Earlier this month the Cohen Commission of Inquiry concluded a three year probe into the decline of Fraser River sockeye and Justice Bruce Cohen presented 75 recommendations to the federal government. While global warming and fisheries management were highlighted in the report as the most serious concern to the future sustainably of the Fraser River sockeye, the recommendations also included a request for additional fish health data from government hatcheries and wild salmon migrating through the Discovery Islands area.

Commissioner Cohen said that wild sockeye could suffer “serious or irreversible harm” if exposed to disease and that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) needed to recognize the possible risk of disease transfer between wild and farm fish.

He recommended that DFO undertake a decisive study of the risks to wild salmon from Discovery Islands fish farming operations.

Cohen’s recommendations “are all about protecting wild salmon which is central to the work that we do each day on our farms,” Backman says. “We’re confident that our farms are not a risk to wild salmon and we support more research to confirm that.”

However, the anti-fish farm lobby is in no mood to wait for research to be completed. It is demanding that the provincial government not renew leases for open-net salmon farms on the coast. Aboriginals and environmentalists demonstrated outside Premier Christy Clark’s constituency office in Point Grey last week and delivered a petition with more than 11,000 signatures opposing the renewal of salmon farm leases.

Molina Dawson of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation from Kingcome Inlet says: “I know without a doubt that the cost to our wild salmon – and everything that relies on them – isn’t worth it. So, as long as the government and fish farm companies are actively endangering our fish they will not be getting any support from me.”

BC Salmon Farmers Association Executive Director Mary Ellen Walling says: “There is no evidence that salmon farms are harming wild salmon. Justice Cohen has asked for more research in one particular operating area and it’s a recommendation we’ve supported. Our farmers continue to operate in their responsible manner in the Discovery Islands, and around the coast. Our contribution to coastal and First Nations communities is important to all of our farm companies working along the B.C. coast. We plan to see that continue. As for the tenures, our farmers have been operating there for many years and these are not new applications.”

Walling also says the sector has about 14 protocol agreements with First Nations offering a “range of opportunities such as priority hiring, contract opportunities and revenue.”

A 2011 report for the Aboriginal Aquaculture Association showed that annual output of farmed salmon is about 77,000 tonnes of which 60,000 tonnes is produced in aboriginal territories under various agreements.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says the province continues to review the Cohen report and will provide a detailed response in the future. Currently, there are 27 aquaculture tenures in the Discovery Islands.

Of those, seven are under review for tenure replacement and are operating under month-to-month tenancy agreements.

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