Province’s fish farmers seek certainty in the year ahead

BCSFA says in order for the industry to move forward in Canada it needs a solid piece of aquaculture-specific legislation

Heading into 2013 the BC Salmon Farmers Association says it is time the industry was accorded its own federal legislation as opposed to just passing mention in the Bank Act.

Association Executive Director Mary Ellen Walling also says it is no longer acceptable for her members to endure the uncertainty of surviving on year-to-year fishing licenses when “we’re not even a fishery.”

Reflecting on 2012, which was dominated by the Cohen Commission report on the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run, and looking ahead to the New Year Welling says: “We need an Aquaculture Act.”

Walling says in order for the industry to move forward in Canada it needs a solid piece of aquaculture specific legislation. She says this issue is “in pretty sharp focus” for federal officials because it is unwieldy to attempt to build a regulatory framework in a fisheries act that doesn’t name aquaculture. “In 2010 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans started granting the sector one year fishing licenses. One of the things we are looking for is obviously longer term licenses. It’s just not acceptable to have millions and millions of dollars invested in the industry for one year fishing licenses.

“There’s one mention of aquaculture in federal legislation and that’s in the Bank Act. Premier Christy Clark told me that was so they could tax us. She meant it as a bit of a joke, but I actually think she’s correct.

“In B.C. we’re considered farmers. In the federal government’s view we are a fishery. It’s an odd situation. In most ways we are not a fishery except that we are in the ocean.”

From the salmon farmers’ point of view building a sustainable regulatory environment is essential if the sector is going to feed a growing population.

“With Canada’s immense coastlines there is a lot of opportunity for us to provide seafood to a growing population. As the population ages we are looking for healthier protein sources and fish and seafood are that source. We have an opportunity in Canada and B.C. to be world leaders in producing seafood in a sustainable way.”

Walling adds: “The demand for seafood is so great if we were to try and access seafood only from the wild we would very quickly decimate those populations. Over 50 per cent of the world’s wild fish populations are in difficulty. It is an astounding figure.

“It’s not a choice; it is a necessity that we farm the seas of the world for healthy protein sources. The challenge is to do it in a way that is respectful of the environment.”

Convincing the environmental movement that this is possible remains a challenge. But, Walling believes her members’ continuing progress in achieving environmental and organic certification of their marine farms, hatcheries and processing facilities is a step in the right direction.