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BC salmon farmers throw in towel

VANCOUVER - Some of the top workers in British Columbia's salmon industry are leaving to nurture ocean farms elsewhere as they grow tired of working in a province in which strident environmental opposition has all but closed off expansion plans - and, they say, deprived the West Coast of hundreds of millions in potential revenues.

Salmon jumping at the Marine Harvest fish farm, run by the Kitasoo band in Klemtu, B.C. Photograph by : Nick Procaylo / Vancouver Province

"If you got an honest answer from most people in the industry, they have bookmarked most of the international job site searches on their computers," said Andrew Forsythe, a long-time BC salmon farmer who left recently for New Zealand.

Mr. Forsythe worked in BC for a decade, first as a feed company vet and then as manager of freshwater salmon production for the Canadian subsidiary of Marine Harvest, the world's largest salmon farming company. He spearheaded the construction of the world's largest recirculation salmon hatchery near Prince Rupert, BC, and was a pivotal force in the West Coast industry.

But he, like numerous others - including a number of senior workers who have left to build a salmon industry in Tasmania - grew frustrated with the pace of expansion of an industry that has been dogged by environmental complaints and political interference. Two years ago, he decided he'd had enough and left for the southern hemisphere where, he said, fish farming is a growth business.

"The salmon industry in BC is 10 times the size of the salmon industry in New Zealand, but it is 10 times smaller than the industry in Norway or Chile," he said - even though BC's suitable salmon farming coastline roughly equals that in those two countries, and the industry here could potentially match them in size.

"While there is enormous scope for development in Canada it has run out of steam. This is not a question of running out of space or transgressing environmental standards. It's politics."

In BC alone, applications for 15 fish farms - most of them salmon - are currently languishing in the licensing system, some since 2002. The delay in their approval has cost the industry about $450-million, estimates Mary Ellen Walling, the executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. That is more than value of the industry's entire 2006 sales.

"The world appetite for salmon is growing faster than our ability to supply it," said Ms. Walling. "But even with our wonderful coastline and poverty-stricken First Nations communities that could really benefit from this activity, the environmental lobby in BC is so strong that it really limits opportunities. It is really frustrating."

Source: Financial Post