While the Strathcona Regional District board did not explicitly ‘pick a side’ in the Discovery Islands fish farms debate, it made it quite clear most directors were not in favour of their closure.
Last month, the regional district was approached by the Wilderness Tourism Association with a request to make their position on the issue known, whether that was to support, oppose or remain neutral in the debate. In response, Cortes Island director Noba Anderson made a motion that the regional district come out in support of the removal.
“I know the board is very split on the matter,” Anderson said. “Fish farms are a critical part of the economy… I honour that. What I’m seeing is that this decision… has been made. I don’t expect it to be reconsidered. I would like us to be in a position of cooperation with the federal government so we can work with them to assist in any way we can.”
The motion came at the same time as a letter from the federal minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan, which was in response to a January letter from the SRD concerned about the lack of representation from local governments in the process leading up to the decision.
“They don’t recognize us as a level of government,” said Campbell River director Charlie Cornfield.
“This decision was not based on science. The minister said so in her letter. It was not based on science, it was not based on expert recommendations, but it was to obtain social licence,” he added. “That was from the Honourable (Minister) Jordan. I use the term ‘Honourable’ very lightly.”
Jordan’s letter to the SRD board does not offer any explanation of how DFO came to the decision.
The board will be writing to Jordan to again ask about more consideration and consultation with local governments.
Area D director Brenda Leigh thought that since the board had made the decision to ask for more consultation, coming out and supporting the fish farm removal did not make sense.
“How can you take a hard position… when you’re still asking to be consulted?” she asked. “I think it’ll just make our regional district look like were not solid on what we believe.”
Not all directors were against Anderson’s motion. Tahsis director Martin Davis said that his community was feeling the opposite effect as others in the area in that their jobs were threatened by the existance of the fish farms and not the other way around.
“We depend on sport fishing,” he said. “We’re losing work here because of the actions of fish farms on the other side of the water. It’s disingenuous to say we’re losing jobs everywhere. Your actions here are harming us.”
The discussion ended up back on jobs and the economy, with Director Ron Kerr adding that he does “support the men and women and their families working in the aquaculture industry.”
“I believe Minister Jordan has been invisible since making the decision and I call on her to come out from hiding and have a constructive conversation with the aquaculture industry.”
Eight out of 14 directors voted against the motion, defeating it.