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Victoria Lake smolt pens questioned

CANADA - An aquaculture operation on Victoria Lake, which raises Atlantic salmon until theyre big enough to survive in ocean net pens, is causing concern among cabin owners.

“They are raising Atlantic salmon for the fish farms, and put it in last year,” says Bette Maki, who bought a cabin five years ago. “It is close to the head waters of the lake and all the cabins are downstream.”

Maki worries about how the operation will affect the lake, which people now drink out of, and what will happen if Atlantic salmon escape from the floating net pens.

“If they escape they will kill every fish in the lake,” said Maki. “Atlantics are very aggressive fish.”

The Gazette was first contacted by Timothy Van Bettacker, a Nanaimo resident who bought a cabin recently.

“My main concern is they’re polluting our pristine lake,” said Van Bettacker. “This is one of our Island’s last pristine lakes and right now the water is clean ... you can drink out of it. To destroy this lake with a fish farm would be an affront to everything this Island stands for.”

Marine Harvest operates the facility and spokesman Clare Backman says it is environmentally friendly and critical to the company’s operation. It cares for 800,000 Atlantics yearly, until they are about six inches long, says Backman.

“We raise Atlantic salmon there from the time they come out of the hatchery until they’re ready to go into the fish farms,” he said. “Fish raised in the lake make the transition to sea water more easily than out of a hatchery. There is less stress and mortality.”

Marine Harvest knows it is operating in a pristine lake. “We actually volunteered to pioneer a waste collection system,” said Backman. “Collectors are under each pen and we bring it ashore and deliver it to composting. We collect at least 60 percent.”

The facility has “very strong escape prevention” mechanisms, including extra strong nets and frequent monitoring. As well, staff sample the surrounding lake regularly to make sure it isn’t getting polluted, says Backman.

Source: North Island Gazette