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Fish farmers have no trouble with site freeze

Fish farm opponents are applauding Friday’s announcement that puts a freeze on any new farms in the Discovery Islands until 2020, but an industry spokesperson says the move will have little impact on current operations.

“We support more research in Discovery Islands area and are confident it will only continue to prove what we’ve seen to date – no impact of our farms on wild salmon,” said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

Walling said salmon farmers support the recommendations set out by the Cohen Commission into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye, and did so last November.

Friday’s announcement to halt any new farms in the Discovery Islands, located northeast of Campbell River, just reinforces Cohen’s recommendations, she added.

“We recognize the importance of working to resolve any outstanding questions,” said Walling. “We are participating in research being done by Genome BC and other research projects to further understand wild and aquaculture fish health.

“Our fish have been shown to be very healthy and as Justice Cohen recognized we have excellent data to support this.”

The largest operator of fish farms in the Discovery Islands group is Marine Harvest Canada. According to site maps on the association’s website, Marine Harvest has 18 fish farm leases scattered through the Islands while Mainstream Canada has three.

Fish farm opponents such as Alexander Morton and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform are applauding the government’s announcement, but say it does’t go far enough.

“Although we applaud the decision to cease issuing new tenures in this important area, the wild salmon remain at risk from the farms that are currently operating there,” said John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation. “We continue to call on the province to rescind these tenures and support the transition of these farms to land-based closed containment facilities which would eliminate the remaining risk of disease and pathogens.”

Walling pointed out that all farmed fish (typically Atlantic salmon) are disease-free when they enter ocean pens and are treated by a veterinarian in the event of a sea lice or disease outbreak.

The Cohen report could find no single cause for the reasons for the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye run.

Walling is steadfast that fish farms are not the issue and instead pointed to a warming ocean as the “elephant in the room.”

Walling added that the “more interesting” recent news for the industry was the federal government’s budget announcement to spend $57.5 million to develop and streamline industry regulations.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is now responsible for regulating the aquaculture industry while the province grants tenures for all sites.

And while the feds are earmarking funds for fish farming, it is also slashing the Fisheries budget by $300 million.

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