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BC report recommendations deem closure for regions fish farms

CANADA - An NDP-dominated committees recommendation to require closed-containment salmon farms in five years would push the industry out of business on the British Columbia's coast, says the regions fish farmers.

Salmon farms in B.C. should not exist in direct contact with the ocean, according to an NDP-dominated committee.

Reactions to the report on sustainable aquaculture in the province have been mixed and those invovled in the industry have expressed major disappointment and concern about the future.

The committee’s report outlines 55 recommendations for the aquaculture industry, including moving to ocean-based closed containment pens.

After touring the BC coast and hearing from industry, community and environmental representatives for 18 months, the committee also called for a ban on new salmon farms on the north coast. Fish farmers and processers are angry and say the committe has come down on the side of environmentalists. It has given little consideration to the ecomomic importance of salmon farming in the region - or the expansion potential it has due to an increasing global demand for salmon.

After a hard-fought 2005 election, that saw the issue divide coastal communities and elect mainly NDP MLAs, the BC Liberal government gave the NDP the majority on the committee, challenging them to find a solution for communities that have few other options to create jobs.

Agriculture Minister Pat Bell said he is disappointed with the results.

“My initial reading of this report is that the recommendation is to shift to closed-containment within five years and then all existing farms be closed,” Bell said.

But on that basis, and knowing that the technology does not yet exist to maintain productivity, Mr Bell says the five year timeline would certainly mean closure or most businesses in the area. "It would mean the end for the 3,000 people that are working on the coast and the end of a third of a billion dollars of economic impact to coastal communities,” he added.

Bell said he intends to study the report’s 55 recommendations, but he can’t support the main ones.

Robin Austin, the NDP MLA for Skeena, who chaired the legislature committee, said the committee’s first duty is to protect wild salmon from the effects of fish farms, including sea lice proliferation and the effects of escaped Atlantic salmon raised in many of them.

He insisted that the five-year timeframe was practical. The industry had adapted to other technical challenges and if the BC government provides another $2 million to a $5 million federal grant to develop closed-containment salmon farming, efficient methods of production could be found in time.