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SRD Directors split on fish farms

Initial motion supporting land-based farms replaced with motion opposing DFO decision
Aquatic science biologist Shawn Stenhouse releases a Atlantic salmon back into its tank during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. A Liberal promise to transition salmon farms in British Columbia from ocean net pens to closed containment systems in just over five years is being slammed as careless by the aquaculture industry but applauded by a wild salmon advocate who says the sooner the better. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

Differences of opinion at the Strathcona Regional Board table were on display during the Feb. 22 meeting when a motion was made to write a letter in support of land-based containment for fish farms in the region.

The motion, made by Tahsis director Martin Davis, was that the board write a letter in support of land-based containment solutions to the Fisheries and Oceans ministry. However, that motion was dismissed by other directors in favour of writing a letter expressing the board’s displeasure about the closure of the Discovery Island fish farms announced on Feb. 17.

Davis told the board that he worked in the aquaculture industry when the first Norwegian companies came to the area. Davis’ job was to open holes in the base of the pens to release the dead fish to the sea floor, he said, which he acknowledged was no longer the practice.

“One of the first things I noticed was the ill health of the salmon being produced in these pens seen as lesions and the sea lice covering them,” he said. “The talk amongst employees at that time was that the farms are moving here because a company we worked for was barred from off and operating in Scandinavia due to their practices. Regulation was basically non-existent here at that time, making an attractive investment opportunity.”

Davis, who is also mayor of Tahsis, proposed sending the letter after the board received correspondence from North Island-based activist Alexandra Morton. Davis said that he is “not opposed to fish farming but we need to move to close containment.

“Sure, profits will decrease but we will get our wild salmon back,” he said, adding that the water-based farms have “a negative impact for our community, it’s hurting our economy it does not create jobs it takes away jobs.”

However, other directors thought differently.

“I just want to say that trying to force these fish farms on to the land is economically un-viable and what you’re really doing is forcing them back to Norway,” Electoral Area A director Gerald Whalley said. “They’ll pull their business out of B.C. and it will hurt us extremely.”

“Taking advice from a self-proclaimed scientist that isn’t really actually a scientist is the wrong direction to take,” said Campbell River director Kermit Dahl. He added that he spoke to “

three of our First Nations leaders” who “don’t support the direction of DFO (to not renew licences for fish farms in the Discovery Islands).

“I think that there’s a huge economic impact to most of the communities on the Central and North Island and when when the industry is supported by the majority of First Nations I think that we should get in line.”

Davis’ motion, which was to write a letter supporting the transition to land-based containment, was defeated, though directors Davis, Area C director Robyn Mawhinney and Area B director Mark Vonesch all voted for it. Instead, a motion was made by Campbell River director Ron Kerr to write a letter to the minister “expressing our displeasure with the announcement (regarding fish farms in the Discovery Islands).”

That motion was passed, with Zeballos director Julie Colburne, Mawhinney, Davis and Vonesch all opposed.

RELATED: Scientists slam DFO report regarding salmon farms, sea lice

Alexandra Morton writes open letter to Strathcona Regional District regarding the future of fish farms

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