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BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson. (Photo: Doug Donaldson Twitter)

Government shows interest in moving open-net fish farms to land, says minister

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Friday, March 09, 2018, 01:00 (GMT + 9)

The British Columbia minister (BC) in charge of aquaculture licences in the province is suggesting a radical change in the provincial government's approach to Atlantic salmon farming in Pacific waters.

Doug Donaldson, BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, says that the provincial government can not prohibit open-net fish farms, as the state of Washington did last week because they are regulated by the federal government.

Washington State Senate bans the breeding of Atlantic salmon in state waters.

However, with the provincial holdings of 22 fish farms to be renewed in June, the minister said the provincial government's vision for the future includes removing them from the ocean and taking them to land operations, whenever possible.

'Closed containment where feasible.'

"We are very concerned as a government to protect wild salmon and the migratory routes they use, and we are really interested in moving to closed containment where possible," Donaldson said in an interview with On the Island presenter Gregor Craigie.

Licences of coastal areas issued by the provinces allow people to access the fish farm from land and anchor the structures that are in shallow water.

Provincial officials have launched "government-to-government" discussions on the future of the 18 farm licences in the Broughton archipelago, which are opposed by five groups representing six First Nations with traditional territories in that area.

Banning the fish farms "the right movement," says the indigenous leader.

Meanwhile, the Namgis First Nation last week complained that Marine Harvest, which owns one of those fish farms, on Swanson Island, appeared to be preparing to replenish its empty pens.

Fish farm complaint

Farmer protesters leave Marine Harvest's Midsummer Island farm in response to the company's request for a court order in November 2017. (Marine Harvest Canada)

Donaldson said the replenishment is completely within the jurisdiction of the industry, although his term could expire in three months.

"What we really want to do is look at the long term of aquaculture with the First Nations involved, with the community and with the industry," he said.

"We know there are bright spots in the future in terms of closed containment when it comes to Atlantic salmon farming," he added.

The cabinet minister's enthusiasm for closed containment comes at a time of growth for salmon farming on land in several countries.

At Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, the closed containment salmon farm of Namgis First Nation is now marginally profitable after four years, company spokeswoman Josephine Mrozewski said. The company harvests five tonnes of salmon every week.

Increasing momentum

The pilot project fulfilled its mission to prove that the technology works, he said, but it would need to be 10 times larger to obtain "investment grade returns".

"It's happening," said Mrozewski. "The momentum is being picked up somewhere other than CB."

Salmon spill encourages breeders of open-net farms to promote the benefits of onshore aquaculture.

The newest terrestrial salmon farms, including the largest in the world, under construction in Florida, are 70 to 300 times larger than Port McNeill.

Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the Salmon Producers Association of British Columbia, said that while 99 per cent of farmed salmon spend the second half of its life in oceanic net pens, aquaculture companies are open to change.

Some companies that operate in BC are involved in new development methods in Norway, said Dunn, "with tremendous government help to help finance these costly programs."

Related article:

BC shows wait-and-see attitude to Washington's decision on salmon aquaculture

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