Sockeye salmon fry

SRD to look at ‘ALL helpful information’ about fish farms

Editor’s note: While there are no fish farms on Cortes Island, there was one on Raza Island directly north of us. The Discovery Island fish farms were in Electoral Area C.  The following article comes very close to being a transcript of my radio broadcast.  

The Strathcona Regional District passed a motion for staff to prepare a report that ‘consolidates the information on open net pen transition provided to the SRD Board prior to October 2022, and updates.’ 

Sea lice on salmon smolt – Photo courtesy Watershed Watch

“I think if we’re going to look at information, we need to look at it all,” said Regional Director John Rice of Area D. 

“Outside of the friendly (sources)? of DFO?” asked SRD Chair Mark Baker

To which Campbell River Director Susan Sinnot responded, “Anything that the staff thinks is reliable and relevant.” 

This segment of the Wednesday, January 25, 2023, SRD board meeting began with Director Sinnot’s account of DFO’s recent meeting with local government.  

DFO’s Jan 16 meeting with local governments

Susan Sinnot: “Fisheries and Oceans had an invitation that came out, I think maybe in December, and I indicated I was interested in attending what they call ‘the local government transition plan engagement.’ I think they’d had one previous to my being elected, but they had a further one in January, on the 16th. That was Wednesday. It was held between 9:00 and noon.” 

“They had agenda items: aquaculture innovation and a trust and transparency section. They were looking for feedback from local government. What I did hear them say, which wasn’t quite on the paperwork, was that they basically were looking for two choices in terms of the future of aquaculture on the coast: A zero impact wild salmon in the ocean in net pens, so some sort of technology that prevents any feed or any type of flow of water escaping from the pens into the wild; and then land-based technology.”  

“There was a lot of discussion about innovation, but they also said that there was no current technology that permit either choice and my recollection was that they said if they can’t do one of the two choices that they’re proposing, then there’d be no more industry.” 

“It was quite confusing at the meeting. A number of the participants were saying, ‘why are we doing this? You already decided to close everything. I don’t understand, you’ve already made your decision. Why are we talking about having transitions and accommodations of ongoing aquaculture salmon farms in the ocean? I thought you were closing them all down.’”

“Last April, the Federal Court of Canada overturned the minister’s decision based on procedural fairness grounds and then it went back to, I believe, cabinet. This is now the end result, the DFO consultation process because they didn’t do a consultation process before they made the announcement in 2020 to close down everything.“

“They’ve already prearranged the two choices and they’re looking for local government impacts, and wants. They were specifically asking what does local government want? And I think they were suggesting that if they did close down the entire industry, what would we need and want?”

“I did note that In a discussion of the case that reversed the minister’s decision from 2020 that the economic loss was calculated at $390 million and over 1500 jobs. Then there was also further loss of capital investment by the industry. The DFO people did acknowledge that aquacultural fin fish, the salmon farms, is probably the largest agricultural product of the province, so it’s a significant industry.” 

“Yesterday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans gave a definitive peer studied report that concluded that fish farms were not contributing to sea lice from infestation on juvenile wild stock. So given that most recent report from the DFO itself, I’m curious what DFO is going to do now.” 

“As a local government, I think it’s imperative that we at least look at the background, and get educated ourselves.”

She mentioned Campbell River’s three pillar industries: forestry, aquaculture, and tourism. 

Susan Sinnot: “If we don’t have those industries, we really don’t have the foundation for a lot of the other reasons to exist as a community. For example: me, as a lawyer, wouldn’t have customers. Why would we need as many doctors? People couldn’t work and support  our community.”

“I think a lot of us have different points of view because we have different regions, but it is certainly going to have an impact if we have a reduction in the aquaculture industry.  We also have a number of different points of view from our Indigenous members and Indigenous First Nations. Some are highly reliant on the industry for their economic welfare, and others are very concerned about the stability of their wild fish and the transition, the migratory routes.  So there’s a lot of complex issues that come into play.”

“It looks like DFO is trying to get all the input done in January into February, and by April, March, come up with some objectives. They’re going to do an Indigenous consultation in the in-between period.” 

“I had some concerns about the process  and  how people didn’t quite understand what was going on.”

“My understanding is that the regional district had done a prior report, but now that we have new members, it may be worth reconsidering with new information.  My proposed motion would be that staff prepare a report for the board that consolidates the information on net pen transition provided to the SRD board prior to October 2020.”

Alternate perspectives

Mayor Martin Davis of Tahsis:  “The Village of Tahsis has been on record. We’ve passed resolutions opposing open net fish farming in our region because of the ongoing impacts we’ve been seeing.  We’re not opposed to the industry. We’d like to see it go to some sort of closed containment.  We have two hatcheries around Tahsis, one’s federally run and the other one’s run as a volunteer basis by the village.” 

“We depend heavily on the sport fishing industry and there is a lot of commercial salmon fishing in our region. I know  that’s big in  Zeballos.  The research that I’ve read seems to indicate that they’re having huge impacts on the wild salmon because  the fish from our hatcheries have to go by these sea pens. They’re dropping feed, which goes down into the ocean, but it also draws the young smolts that are running out to sea into these fish pens because they will feed on that same feed. When they go there, they get infected with sea lice and most of them don’t make it out to the ocean. We’re seeing year on year declines in our wild salmon. So again, it’s having a negative impact on us economically.”

“We’ve been opposed to it since 2010, I think, that was our first resolution.  I’m planning on bringing another resolution forward from my new council, and I’m sure it’ll receive support.” 

Chair Baker: “One of the things that the director is asking for is science driven information that is out there to be brought because there’s going to be new members of this board that aren’t familiar with the history of it.  So whether they are for or against, we want to put in front of them the accurate information science based and not by any other group.” 

Mayor Julie Colborne of Zeballos: “This is a really delicate proposition for me. We talk about science-based information and having that back.  There are so many studies out there refuting other studies that this is a real hard one for me to swallow  as a whole.  It would be great to see what information the Strathcona Regional District has received to date. For every study that someone puts forward that says it is bad for young fish stocks, there’s another study that says that DFO is studying it themselves and saying that it’s not.” 

Regional Director Gerald Whalley: “You can go on the internet and you get information pro and con, whatever you want. That’s what you read. I think the definitive authority on this is the DFO. They’re the people that we hire to come up with the final scientific position on it. I think whatever they come up with, that’s what we should follow. Because if you’re just depending on the information you research yourself, you’ll come up with whatever you happen to agree.”

Chair Baker: “So do we want to make a amendment to that motion to add just information from DFO? Is that what you’re suggesting Director Whalley?”  

Gerald Whalley:  “I wasn’t suggesting to make an amendment, but I think that’s appropriate. Let’s put that motion as ‘additional information from the DFO and their current position on it.” 

Chair Baker: “Director Sinnot, are you okay with that motion?” 

Director Sinnot: “I’m fine with that because there was just a report issued yesterday from DFO. I thought the intention was to take the existing reports and bring them up to date.” 

Some Directors suggested the SRD needs to include scientific reports from sources outside of the DFO.

Martin Davis: “I’m fairly happy with this, but I think we need to include any research. We’re just talking about DFO, it’s got its own silo too, and I don’t necessarily trust that we’re going to get all the information we need from that one source.”

Chair Baker: “Yes, that’s any updates. So it’s not just DFO, the amendment was changed.”

According to the minutes, Campbell River Directors Sinnot and Chapman brought forward a motion for staff to “prepare a report for the Board that consolidates the information on net pen transition provided to the SRD Board prior to Oct. 2022 and updates.”

The motion carried with no opposing votes. 

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Top photo credit: Sockeye salmon fry by National Park Service K.Martin via Flickr (Public Domain)

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