Coalition calls for end to open-pen salmon farming in B.C. by 2025

Grieg NL shows off 'escape-free' cages, as salmon farm plan still up in the air

A new environmental group wants the B.C. and federal governments to force the salmon farming industry to switch to land-based operations in the province by 2025.

Wild First describes itself as a coalition of business leaders, independent scientists, First Nations leaders and others focused on the preservation of wild Pacific salmon species.

The group released a video on Thursday which highlights the rare glass sponge reefs discovered in B.C. waters, then claims to show the seabed beneath a Cermaq salmon farm in coastal B.C., with lifeless reefs covered in residue.

The video was shot by the same videographer, Tavish Campbell, who released an anti-salmon-farming video last year that led to a provincial review of fish processing plants.

'Completely unacceptable'

Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said there's a lack of political will to move on the research and recommendations that have arisen on the topic of salmon farming in the past year.

"We find this latest video of the impacts that open-net cage fish farms are having, and continue to have, on the coastal waters, the fish and the environment here in British Columbia completely unacceptable," said Chamberlin.

Wild First is calling for:

- a moratorium on new tenures and licences and the removal of open-net pen salmon farms; 

- new incentives for industry to make the transition to land-based operations;

- workforce training;

- and the prioritization of removing fish farms from Indigenous territories opposed to the operations.

Cermaq reaction to video

Cermaq Canada managing director David Kiemele said the company is looking into claims made in the video about its operation at Cecil Island, off B.C.'s Central Coast, which he says has been empty since June 2017.

"All of our leases abide by strict environmental regulations about where we can locate farms to ensure we avoid known risks to sensitive marine habitats," Kiemele said in a written statement to CBC News.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said its own research has demonstrated that "outside the farm deposition zone, glass sponges can continue to thrive."

"Extensive federal regulations for the management of aquaculture are in place to protect the environment," said spokeswoman Michelle Rainer.

DFO data shows a seabed sample test at Cecil Island, industry-reported last June, found acceptable levels of chemical impact, clearing the facility for continued use.

Kiemele's statement didn't address the transition to land-based operations, but argued for the need to continue producing farmed salmon.

"We strive to sustainably meet the growing demand for salmon to eat here and around the world," he said.

Government response

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham was asked about ending open-net salmon farms during question period in the legislature on Thursday.

"It's obviously a very, very important topic, something that our government is very concerned about," said Popham, adding that the province is working with the aquaculture industry to transition to closed-containment farms.

"The federal government holds most of the cards on this file, and we're doing ... everything we can from our position, but the federal government has to meet us at the table."

Rainer said DFO supports closed-containment technology and best practices in the aquaculture industry, but that "the freshwater and energy demands required to operate such a facility must be considered when calculating other environmental benefits."

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