‘Write on the wall’ for West Coast fish farms, say conservationists

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Open-net pen fish farming on the Pacific Coast took a hit after news broke that operations in British Columbia and Washington state would shut down this week.

The Shíshálh Nation said Wednesday that aquaculture giant Grieg Seafood will remove salmon farms from national waters along B.C.’s Sunshine Coast by February 2023. Meanwhile, on Monday, the state of Washington The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has declared it is not renewing Atlantic Canada’s last two open net pen leases from Cooke Seafood in Puget Sound and farming operations will end by Dec. 14.

Wild salmon conservationists are celebrating both decisions, saying it’s written on the wall for net-pen fish farms as well as a victory for Indigenous rights and First Nations food security.

Both decisions significantly benefit wild salmon at increased risk of sea lice and disease that are amplified by open-net fish farms in the ocean, said Stan Proboszcz, senior scientist at the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. .

This week’s closures, coupled with previous closures of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands and Broughton Archipelago regions of British Columbia, suggest a domino effect is underway, Proboszcz said.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” he said.

“This puts a lot of pressure on our federal government to meet its commitment to remove the remaining open net pens on BC salmon farms by 2025.”

It also means that British Columbia is the last stronghold for open-net fish farms on the North American Pacific coast, he said.

Cooke Seafood was the only commercial open net pen operator in Washington waters.

The DNR’s decision, in effect, means Washington has joined the ranks of Alaska, California and Oregon, which do not have or allow industrial fish farms.

Open-net pen fish farming on the Pacific Coast took a hit after news broke that operations in British Columbia and Washington state would shut down this week.

hiwus (Chief) Warren Paull said shíshálh have long been concerned about the impacts of fish farms on BC’s declining wild stocks and the nation’s way of life.

Shíshálh waters were a hub for early salmon farms in the province in the 1980s, he said.

“Fewer farms now exist, but our concerns remain. shíshálh has worked tirelessly to restore salmon populations and protect fish habitat,” Paull said in a statement.

“Protecting this precious resource for future generations has always been our priority.

The nation relies on the precautionary principle, consistent with shíshálh laws and responsibilities, to make decisions, protect resources and ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery, the statement said.

“We commend Grieg Seafoods for working cooperatively with the shíshálh nation throughout the decision-making process,” Paull said, adding that consent-based decision-making is one aspect of implementing the Declaration. of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Grieg Seafood supports the First Nations in whose territories it operates, including recognizing the rights of First Nations to self-determine the aquaculture development they choose for their nation, the company said in a statement.

Greig held eight fish farming licenses in shíshálh territory, with six farms already dormant, as these were older, smaller sites that were difficult to operate due to hot water temperatures and higher salinity. , which can increase the number of sea lice.

Harvesting at the two remaining farms in the area is complete, other sites have already been dismantled and those that remain will be decommissioned early next year, the company said.

Grieg Seafood, whose fish farm in Clio Channel is pictured above, is closing its sites in shíshálh Nation territory on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. Photo by David Stanley/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The refusal to renew Cooke Seafood’s licenses to farm rainbow trout is a crucial step in supporting Washington’s waters, anglers, tribes and the wild salmon everyone is fighting fiercely to save, Hilary Franz , Commissioner of State Public Lands, said in a statement Monday.

Removing fish farms will restore full access to culturally important fishing areas in northern Skagit Bay, said Steve Edwards, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

“Cooke’s net enclosures have interfered with the exercise of our treaty rights for too long. We look forward to the day when the Hope Island net pen installation will be a distant memory,” said Edwards.

The announcement ended the saga with Cooke Seafood that began in August 2017 when hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from the company’s Cypress Island site in the Salish Sea, said Franz.

Cooke was fined $332,000 and found guilty of negligence by the state Department of Ecology. In 2018, Washington passed legislation phasing out open-net pen farming of non-native fish, but Cooke turned to farming rainbow trout in response.

Ultimately, the DNR refused to renew the company’s licenses after finding that its operations posed a risk of environmental harm to state-owned aquatic lands. But in the meantime, the company “has fought us every step of the way,” Franz said.

Recent decisions to close fish farms in Washington state and by the Shíshálh Nation of British Columbia in their territory protect Indigenous rights and food security, said Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance . Photo by Rochelle Baker

Bob Chamberlin, President of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance in British Columbia, it was gratifying to see the Washington State government meaningfully respond to First Nations concerns and recognize the need to protect food security and human rights. from treaties.

“My wish is that the Canadian government, and in particular Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, take notice of the decision,” Chamberlin said.

“And they’re using that as a very clear example of what needs to be done to deal with BC’s peak salmon runs that are at historic lows.”

The shíshálh decision recognized the importance of the precautionary principle in protecting salmon, an important resource and a thread that connects the coasts and the interior to each other, he said.

Activist and biologist Alexandra Morton said impending fish farm withdrawals are pushing open net pens into fewer and fewer places on the British Columbia coast, making production more vulnerable to algal blooms, diseases or hot water that can kill farmed fish.

One wonders if Grieg had no choice but to respect the wishes of the shíshálh to leave the territory given that the BC government now requires First Nations approval before a fish farm is re-appointed. , she added.

“It’s shocking to me that the salmon farming industry doesn’t see the writing on the wall,” Morton said.

If the industry recognized that it was time to move to closed containment on land, companies would likely benefit from public and private support and investment, she said, adding that other infrastructure such as hatcheries, processing plants and transportation would all remain in place.

“But no one will invest in closed containment if cheap and dirty open net pen farms still exist.”

Neither Grieg Seafood nor the BC Salmon Farmers Association responded to questions from Canadian National Observerand no one was made available for an interview.

Grieg’s exit from shíshálh territory is in line with the development of sites well suited to salmon farming, with the additional aim of improving the environmental footprint of operations and the welfare of fish while reducing costs, according to the press release. the society.

The changes will not result in job losses and Grieg’s total harvest volume targets will not be affected.

The aquaculture company shares concerns about wild salmon population declines and is developing new farming technologies that reduce interactions between farmed and wild fish, according to Grieg’s statement.

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada


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