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Fish farm report likely to reignite controversy

CANADA - Environmentalists and salmon farmers are bracing for a renewal of hostilities expected to begin today with the release of a British Columbia government committee report on sustainable aquaculture.

The committee is expected to recommend a permanent moratorium on salmon farm development along BC's North Coast, expanded farming in the south, and a move to closed-containment farming that is without global precedent.

Sustainable aquaculture committee chairman Robin Austin (NDP-Skeena) is expected to table the report this afternoon in the legislature, immediately after question period.

BC's Liberal government is not committed to implementing the recommendations in the report, which took 18 months to prepare and included a lengthy series of public meetings in communities all along the coast.

Environmental groups and fish farmers have said that they expect to see a recommendation that the government compel all new farms to use closed containment pens for their fish.

As well, they're expecting a recommendation that all existing farms make the switch to closed containment by 2010.

If the recommendation is accepted, BC would be the first jurisdiction in the world to require this technology for ocean farms, despite their comparatively small contribution to global output of farmed salmon.

Closed pens are championed by environmental groups as a means of dealing with long-standing grievances about escapes from open-net pens, large accumulations of faecal matter that suffocate the seabed beneath pens, and the role that fish farms play in hyper-concentrating sea lice and transmitting them back to wild salmon in potentially lethal concentrations.

Watershed Watch, the science-focused environmental group that pioneered research into sea lice effects on wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, says that failure to act upon the report's recommendations will put native salmon populations in mortal peril.

Watershed Watch executive director Craig Orr said he's not persuaded by fish farmers' contention that closed containment is too expensive -- because those arguments tend to exclude a calculation of the environmental and social costs of decimating native salmon that are at risk because their migration paths take them close to farms.

Nor does he think a three-year conversion is too sudden.

"We have to act quickly if we want to conserve the genetic diversity of wild salmon populations on this coast," Orr said in a telephone interview. "We have seen the decline in wild salmon and genetic diversity around the world and it's been mainly because of open net cage aquaculture and sea lice impacts."

Salmon farmers who experimented at length with closed containment facilities say they are neither a viable nor a economical replacement for the open net-style fish pens that are presently used here and around the world.

Clare Backman of Marine Harvest, one of B.C.'s leading salmon farming companies, said in an interview that the company's own experiments with closed pens in B.C. show that they require a lot of energy to support constant water circulation and oxygenatiouver Sunon, while yielding smaller fish compared with open pens.

"Our experience so far is that these things are not a panacea," Backman said. "Nowhere in the world for salmon are they doing this kind of closed-wall system.Nowhere in the world do government organisations require closed containment."

Source: The Vancouver Sun