First Nations hope B.C. follows Washington's lead on salmon farms
A bill passed by the Washington state Senate on Friday will phase out the farming of Atlantic Salmon in Washington waters by 2025, and British Columbia First Nations are hoping to see the provincial government do the same.
“Here in British Columbia, the vast majority of First Nations are very clear in their opposition to the operation of open net cage fish farms,” said Bob Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “We welcome the Washington state decision and certainly are going to be pushing for the British Columbia government to do the same and look after this world resource of Pacific salmon.”
Washington’s governor Jay Inslee has indicated he will sign the bill, which was proposed after tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from an open net pen fish farm last August.
The farm - located near the San Juan Islands - is owned by Cooke Aquaculture, the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the United States.
The company has expressed disappointment in the legislature’s decision, a sentiment echoed by industry advocates in British Columbia.
“We think this is a decision based on emotion stemming from a major incident in the summer,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “We think a better approach would have been to strengthen regulations and allow the operator to invest significantly in their operations.”
That said, British Columbia’s fish farming industry is vastly different from Washington’s, according to Dunn.
“Our members have invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years on new pen equipment, new netting equipment, and new marine designs to ensure that our farms are able to withstand the highest seas and the highest currents at every location that they’re sited,” he said.
Dunn said fewer than 100 fish escape from all farms in British Columbia each year, a number he said has “no impact” on the local environment in the province.
Atlantic salmon can’t interbreed with Pacific species, but Chamberlin and others express concern that salmon that escape from farms can spread diseases to wild fish they come in contact with.
Chamberlin characterized open net pens - floating fish farms located off the B.C. coast - as “old technology,” which should be replaced with landlocked, closed-containment fish farms in the future.
“What we’re doing is not trying to attack an industry, but look after the sacred salmon that are for all of our people in British Columbia, not just First Nations,” he said.
Currently, the vast majority of farmed salmon in British Columbia is farmed in open net pens, and Dunn’s organization cites studies conducted by various governments that have concluded closed-containment fish farms are not yet commercially viable for large scale production.
The new Washington law will phase out the farming of Atlantic salmon, but does not prohibit the use of open net pens.
Dunn declined to speculate about how Washington’s salmon farming industry would adjust to the new rules, but he said Atlantic salmon are by far the most commonly farmed fish in the world. While some farmers raise species of salmon native to the Pacific Ocean, Dunn said, most of the global demand for salmon is for the Atlantic variety.