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May 18, 2018 | Salmon Farming has a Key Role to Play in Protecting Wild Fish

Stewart Muir is founder and executive director of the Resource Works Society, a Vancouver-based group open to participation by British Columbians from all walks of life who are concerned about their future economic opportunities. He is an author, journalist and historian with experience on three continents including a financial editor of The Vancouver Sun responsible for mining and markets coverage. Since Resource Works was established in 2014, the group has gained international recognition for its practical approach to the public challenges of responsible natural resource development and use.

Although you might not know it from outbursts in the media of late, salmon farming is one of the greenest and most sustainable rural industries that British Columbia has going for it. Stewart Muir looks at the situation.

post-image_2.jpgAs a researcher and former journalist who goes beyond the headlines to study the benefits and challenges of numerous resource industries, it has struck me as peculiar that a beneficial endeavour like salmon farming is facing very vocal opposition rather than being celebrated as a home-grown green success story.

On closer examination, I’ve uncovered a well-funded PR campaign underwritten by other fishing industries competing for shelf space in your grocery store, and by downtown millionaires who have never seen a fish farm.

It’s true there are real issues regarding protection of wild salmon, which is something we should all be concerned about.

Numerous studies about the interactions between wild and farmed salmon have found no evidence of negative impact on wild Pacific salmon populations from salmon farming – at least the valid studies based on sound science and government regulations.

That makes sense when you think about it. If farms were really the problem, you would expect Chinook salmon populations in places with no farms would be healthier, but that is not the case at all. Wild fish stocks are experiencing the same issues whether they live near farms, or not.

Science points not to farming but to over-fishing and climate change as the top issues our wild salmon face. Unethical fishing fleets from around the world devastate wild stocks. Warming ocean temperatures are having a significant impact.

We don’t hear a word about this from the Vancouver PR spin doctors with their made-for-TV scare tactics opposing certified healthy farmed salmon. Decades spent working as a journalist left me with a strong built-in detector for, shall we say, bovine droppings. The stench of these campaigns is ripe.

They would have you believe we should focus on fishing wild stocks instead of farming. Killing millions of wild salmon is the way to save them? Give me a break. It’s a con job, no more truthful than the old PR claims that cigarettes are good for us – and will no doubt be looked back at as being just as harmful in its own way.

This week, I caught out one of B.C.’s celebrity chefs claiming that creatures in a photo were sea lice from farmed salmon and kicking up a fuss. In fact, they are harmless crab larvae. He was being hosted by an activist group that has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the interests behind salmon farming’s biggest competitor.

That is typical of their tactics. Unfortunately, so is intimidation.

Salmon farm workers have been targeted with daily intimidation from protesters who trespass on farm sites issuing threats. On May 17, B.C.’s Supreme Court ruled to eject thugs and vandals, aided no doubt by well-meaning souls, who have been intimidating the women and men doing their jobs at Swanson Island. The judicial rebuke to offensive and wrong behaviour comes as welcome news.

Some politicians are trying to spin the opposition to farms as a simple choice – just move them off the ocean onto the land and wild salmon are saved. Wonderful! There you go, simple solution.

An on-land salmon farming experiment was tried recently in British Columbia. It was a costly flop, complete with millions in wasted taxpayer subsidies. Equaling current production of B.C. farmed salmon on land would require an estimated $5 billion in new investment – if the necessary technology that doesn’t exist now can be created. Forcing such a move would kill our local industry and threaten the wild salmon that many hold sacred.

The video here depicts just one positive salmon story among hundreds that I’ve been hearing:

Salmon farming puts food on the tables of thousands of working families. Driving it away would increase pressure on wild stocks from over-fishing to meet the resulting gap in supply. Perhaps the cruelest blow would be to the many First Nations whose members work in salmon farming – good jobs creating self-sustaining local economies.

Salmon farming deserves so much better than what it is receiving now. Restoring respect and truth to the ongoing dialogue is an important step forward.

Thumbnail image by Tavish Campbell

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May 18th, 2018

Posted In: Resource Works

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