Campbell River mayor’s fish farm support on the wrong side of history

Filed for publication with the Mirror

Re: Campbell River Mirror newspaper article dated Nov. 4, 2019: “After the election: the future of fish farms on the North Island”

Mayor Andy Adams,

I am writing in response to comments you made in our local newspaper that Campbell River as the Salmon Capital has now shifted from wild salmon to include net cage cultured salmon.

I think it is good that both yourself and Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas are both concerned that our newly-elected federal government has pledged to move net cage salmon aquaculture onto land by 2025. Your concerns, however, I suggest, are based on misinformation. You can rest assured, the new government policy of removal of the farms from the ocean by 2025 was not an easy decision, nor a poorly thought out shift in policy. Nowhere in the world that I am aware of have wild salmon benefited from the introduction and expansion of net cage salmon aquaculture; so the real question is why is Canada so arrogant to think we can do it here? This, of course, is notwithstanding the additional lifecycle complexities and biological risks faced by our five species of wild salmon and beleaguered steelhead, in stark comparison to the single wild Atlantic salmon species. To our north, Alaska and to our south in Washington, Oregon and California, wild Pacific salmon are showing promise, where they have little to no salmon net cage aquaculture. Why are things so different here?

Now 62 years of age, having lived and fished the British Columbia coast my entire life, I have become increasingly concerned over growing polarized views surrounding net cage aquaculture. This I find troubling. Yes, the aquaculture industry supports many jobs but for those who remember, so did wild salmon; thousands of jobs in the commercial recreational fishery, not to mention our fiduciary obligations to First Nations people. Campbell River was named the Salmon capital of the World for one reason and one reason alone, for the wild salmon.

The growing body of evidence supports the Liberal direction to remove all net cage aquaculture from our coastal waters by 2025. To many, this may sound daunting at first but, like any other significant challenge, you first accept the decision that things must change, then collaboratively folks get together and design a course of action to achieve the change objective. Industry and all stakeholders should come together as soon as possible and chart out the necessary waypoints to achieve the new destination. Given the multitude of economic and marketing tools available through all levels of government, the blow to industry could be managed and transitional towards even greater prosperity for the aquaculture industry. Imagine the value of building an onshore aquaculture industry that would showcase Canada as a world leader in leading environmentally-sustainable cultured salmon, all the while benefiting wild salmon.

We have many former coastal pulp and paper mills that have outlived their original industrial design purpose, however, lie in wait for new economic opportunities. Their water sources, historical pollution permits/control systems and energy supplies are all waiting for such an opportunity. Imagine, if you will, the marketing and economic benefits, not to mention the benefits to our wild salmon. To date, onshore aquaculture models have been small and uneconomical. It is time to bring a new model to the scale using former pulp and paper infrastructure that would be economically feasible.

We know the objective, so rather than kick the can down the road and witness further public divisiveness on the issue and further decline in our wild stocks, why not collectively roll up our sleeves and chart the necessary waypoints? It is being done in other places and can be done here, provided there is the will.

In closing, to not do this, and choosing the path of least resistance by “further kicking the can down the road,” will, I believe, find those who disagree on the wrong side of history.

For what it’s worth.

Steve Lewis,

commercial fisherman

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