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Government OKs two new salmon farms

CANADA - Two new salmon-farm licences have been approved for sites near Klemtu, on the Central Coast, despite recommendations by a special legislative committee that open-net pens should be eliminated because of the risk to wild salmon.

Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell said the two licences, issued to Marine Harvest with Crown land tenures going to Kitasoo Aqua Farms Ltd., have gone through detailed biological reviews and are based on sound science.

However, Robin Austin, who headed the NDP-dominated special committee on sustainable aquaculture, said the decision does not bode well for the committee's report.

"They're going ahead with issuing new licences without even saying which part of our recommendations they are going to bring into force," he said.

Bell said the committe report has some good points that are worthy of consideration. "I expect to have an aquaculture plan in place by this fall that will clearly articulate our policy in BC," he said.

Bell said that the Klemtu licences have the support of the Kitasoo First Nation, who are partners in the venture, and they do not represent an increase in the number of farmed fish in the area. There are already five fish-farm licences in Kitasoo traditional territory and one licence at Arthur Island will be relinquished, meaning a net gain of one site, he said.

"Six licences create a critical mass. It will allow them to fallow sites for a longer period of time and ensure more appropriate management," Bell said.

A few other applications are working their way through the system and may be issued before the aquaculture plan is in place, but he said that he was not expecting a great deal of activity.

Kitasoo band manager and treaty negotiator Percy Starr said the new licences were great news for his community. About 55 people from the community of 500 are now employed in fish farming and processing the chinook and coho.

"We have been in fish farms for a few years, but we do everything we can to deal with the environmental concerns," said Mr Starr. "The wild salmon runs went about 50 years ago and we were left with nothing."

However, Living Oceans Society salmon campaign co-ordinator Will Soltau said it was unfortunate that the government should choose to issue new licences just as trials of closed containment systems are getting underway.

"I understand the need for First Nations to have economic development, but that could be in closed containment pens," he said.