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Government Reports Show High Compliance, But Critics Not Convinced

VICTORIA Provincial reports on British Columbia's aquaculture sector show that the industry is committed to upholding a high level of environmental standards and is serious about co-existing with wild salmon stocks. However, critics have dubbed the reports 'red herrings'.

The 2006 Compliance and Enforcement and Fish Health Reports were released earlier this week by Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell and are part of the government's commitment to closely monitor aquaculture operations in an open, transparent manner and to ensure a safe and sustainable industry.

"The aquaculture industry has created tremendous opportunities for BC’s coastal communities and those economic opportunities need to continue to be in balance with the protection of wild salmon stocks," said Minister Bell.

He believes that the BC industry has adopted a performance-based approach to aquaculture management. This involves setting standards, monitoring, auditing and adaptive management.

"We set standards and the industry has to meet them. We are working collaboratively with all stakeholders to develop a consensus-based aquaculture strategy that represents the interests of local communities, First Nations, industry and the environment," explained Mr Bell.


The data included in each report was collected during 2006.

The Annual Inspection Report shows that a high level of compliance is being achieved by operational sites. Marine salmon farms obtained a 99.7 per cent average compliance rating for both Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and Ministry of Environment requirements.

The report notes that there were 11 fish escapes during 2006, a marked decrease on previous years. One investigation has resulting in a violation order but the others remain under investigation.

The ministry places a high priority on its escape prevention program and operators are required by law to report any known or suspected incidents within 24 hours of discovery.

The Fish Health Report identified no disease findings that had not already been reported in British Columbian wild, hatchery-reared or research salmonids. The survival rate of farmed Atlantic salmon ranged from 94 to 98 per cent. Random audit results derived from dead Atlantic salmon samples showed that 78 per cent of cases were free from infectious disease. The other 22 per cent had mainly myxobacteriosis and bacterial kidney disease, natural ailments that are common to the Pacific coast in both wild and farmed stocks.

With regard to Pacific salmon, the survival rates ranged from 88 to 94 per cent. Around 57 per cent of dead fish that were inspected were found to be free from infectious disease, while the remaining proportion were killed as a result of bacterial kidney disease and Rickettsiosis.

Sea lice audits conducted in 2006 during the out-migration period of wild fry (April to July) were well below the accepted level in all but two subzones. The affected companies increased monitoring frequency, harvested fish and enacted health management strategies to combat the problem.

The Province has been monitoring the levels of on-farm lice since 2003 when a pilot project that was extended to include the entire BC fish-farming industry. The Government has since implemented the monitoring program as a part of the Fish Health Management Plans and has also instituted the audit and verification program.

Not so rosy

However, industry critics say the reports are"red herrings."
Speaking to The Canadian Press campaigner Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society said fish farmers were complying with a system that doesn't work," said veteran aquaculture campaigner Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society.

She said it is a system tailored for raising farmed fish for what she called the "Norwegian-owned" companies operating in BC waters.

"But the system is not working for the interests of British Columbians and it's putting at risk our wild fish stocks," she said.

Stewart said the BC Liberal government had a lot invested in ensuring fish farming provides employment opportunities in coastal communities. But it is putting the coastal ecosystem at risk to provide benefits for a relatively small employment pool.

The Opposition's aquaculture critic, Skeena New Democrat MLA Robin Austin, slammed the reports for failing to address the central issue - problems caused by the interaction between farmed salmon and wild fish.

"The whole premise of (these reports) is that everything is fine with open-net cages and as long as the industry is upholding the regulations that we have, then everything's fine," he said.

Hearings held across BC last year by the all-party committee on aquaculture highlighted significant problems with open-net operations.

The government has yet to comment on the committee's report, which recommended fish farms continue to be banned from BC's North Coast and that open-net farm practices be discontinued .

Minister Bell said that protection of wild salmon stocks will continue to be a priority for the government and its long-promised, comprehensive aquaculture management plan, which should be ready by March 2008.

Further Reading

- To view the Fish Health Programme Report click here.
- To read the Annual Inspections Report click here.