Fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson speaking in Vancouver on Feb. 16, 2019. Photo by Pacific Salmon Foundation Fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson speaking in Vancouver on Feb. 16, 2019. Photo by Pacific Salmon Foundation

Federal fisheries minister calls for precautionary approach to fish farming

Government still reviewing Federal Court’s decision on PRV – Wilkinson

Federal fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson says he wants to pursue a precautionary approach to fish farms in B.C. waters amid polarizing debates about the future of the aquaculture industry.

People need to be convinced that aquaculture is environmentally sound before the economic potential of fish farming can be realized, said the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

“Clearly there has been a lot of debate in British Columbia about a range of different issues,” he said in a phone interview from Ottawa on Wednesday. “There are increasingly two camps that don’t listen to each other very well, and often don’t have the ability to have an appropriate dialogue.”

He said the government is looking at an “area-based management” approach that considers environmental, social and economic concerns related to the location of fish farms.

He wouldn’t comment about whether that would mean removing fish farms from the migration routes of wild salmon, but said the approach would vary depending from place to place.

“There are communities that are very supportive and are interested in economic development and there are clearly some communities that have concerns about involvement in aquaculture, and I think we need to take those into account,” he said.

READ MORE: Feds say $105-million fish fund will support wild salmon, innovation in B.C. fisheries

In December, First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago who oppose open-net pen fish farms signed a deal with the provincial government phasing out at least 10 fish farms by 2023.

The other seven fish farms in the region will require consent from local Indigenous groups to continue operations beyond that four-year window. Wilkinson, along with Premier John Horgan, First Nations leaders and officials from the aquaculture industry endorsed the agreement.

The government is also studying closed-containment options, Wilkinson said on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Virus found among Atlantic salmon ‘poses minimal risk’ to Fraser River sockeye – DFO

The Liberal MP for North Vancouver said he wants to move beyond the polarizing fish farm debate by applying a precautionary principle to potential ecological harm.

“What I’ve said is, ‘Let’s assume that some of the concerns that have been expressed by those that are opposed to open-net farms are true, even though I would tell you that within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans the science would tell you that some of those concerns are not correct,” he said.

He said that among scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), there is “a pretty strong scientific consensus on the vast majority of issues” but acknowledged that some disagreements exist.

“This is a government that said we’re not going to muzzle scientists, and we want to make sure there is robust debate as we move through these issues,” he said.

Wilkinson’s latest comments come on the heels of events that raised questions about potential risks for wild salmon caused by farmed fish.

READ MORE: Dissenter from group of scientific experts calls foul on DFO, says effects of fish farm virus ‘extremely uncertain’

Earlier this month, a Federal Court judge overturned a DFO policy that allows young salmon to be transferred into open-net pens without screening them for piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV.

Justice Cecily Strickland found that DFO’s threshold for acceptable harm to wild salmon was too high and that its policy didn’t comply with the precautionary principle.

The court also found that DFO breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis First Nation about PRV. Strickland gave the federal government four months to review the policy.

However, DFO also stated this month – shortly after the Federal Court decision – that PRV from fish farms in the Discovery Islands pose no risk to Fraser River sockeye, based on an expert peer-review study that involved 33 participants, 15 of them from DFO.

That led to controversy when John Werring, a member of the peer-review expert panel, said there was no consensus among members of the panel.

Wilkinson downplayed the level of disagreement, but said he’s not dismissing people’s concerns.

“We need to get beyond this debate that nobody is winning right now,” he said.

Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said in an email that the aquaculture industry “has long supported area-based management, along with a greater role for First Nations.

“We will be engaging with DFO, as our regulator, in how that approach will be implemented over time,” he said.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Meet Arthur Heart, Oak Bay Avenue’s resident stickman

Contest winner dubs stickman Art Heart

Victoria council keeps its catered lunches at more than $10,000 per year

Two councillors tried to eliminate the expense, with widespread rejection

All Carlton Cards stores closing in the coming weeks

Schurman Retail Group stores across North America will close, including 79 in Canada

UPDATED: 12 Wet’suwet’en supporters arrested by VicPD

Protesters rallied against Coastal GasLink pipeline

Four things ‘not’ to do if you run into Prince Harry and Meghan in B.C.

Here is a list of some things you definitely should NOT do, according to the BBC

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

B.C.-based Coulson Aviation C-130 crashes in Australia

Three people are confirmed dead in the crash in New South Wales

New nasal spray launched in Canada to combat hypoglycemic shock in diabetics

Baqsimi is a nasal spray contains three milligrams of glucagon

B.C. RCMP spent roughly $750K on massive manhunt for Port Alberni men

Manitoba RCMP helped with 17-day search through the province’s northern terrain

Island Bakery in Cobble Hill to close

Cobble Hill store in business since 1982

Man killed by police in Lytton called 911, asking to be shot: RCMP

Howard Schantz, also known as Barry Schantz was killed following a standoff at his Lytton home

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

Most Read