Salmon Farm Approved,
by Jeff Rud
Province turns down geoduck application
The B.C. government has yet to formally respond to an all-party committee's recommendation in May that open-net pen salmon farming be phased out, but its actions since offer a strong hint about its stance.
Agriculture Minister Pat Bell yesterday issued another new salmon farm licence -- the fourth since the Special Legislative Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture reported on May 16.
Grieg Seafood B.C. Ltd. of Campbell River was granted approval for a new site in Nootka Sound, on the southwest shore of Gore Island in King Passage, about 20 minutes by boat from Gold River. It is the second site approved for Grieg in Nootka Sound since the report's release.
Bell also announced that he rejected a controversial application for a geoduck farm off Quadra Island in Open Bay. He also amended a salmon farm licence in Campbell River to allow the use of containment bags to raise smolt -- the first phase in a plan that could lead to the sort of commercial close-containment farming recommended by the aquaculture committee.
But the approval of another open-net pen farm in Nootka Sound drew the ire of environmentalists, who say there is overwhelming evidence such farms harm wild salmon and the ocean.
Bell said the application by Grieg made "good biological sense'' and has the support of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation.
"This is a site identified by the local First Nation as an area acceptable for fish farming. It also has extensive support from local communities. It makes a lot of sense to move forward.''
Bell said the coast guard, federal government, Comox-Strathcona Reg-ional District and Friends of Clayoquot Sound were among those consulted in the farm's 2003 application.
Grieg Seafood now holds licences for five farms in the area, with one application still pending.
Mia Parker, manager of regulatory affairs for Grieg, said the company will operate only four of those sites at one time. The new site will not have any fish for 18 months.
But Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society said that government should have waited until it responds to the aquaculture committee's report and coming recommendations from the Pacific Salmon Forum before it approved any new farms.
"I guess this is an indication of their response [to the report,]'' Stewart said. "It's extremely disheartening. Their policy seems to be: Keep on approving more open-net cage farms and damn the science.''
Grieg's Parker said the contents of the committee's report "are just recommendations," adding that the government already has a thorough regulatory regime in place for salmon farms that the company meets or surpasses.
Bell used his rejection of the geoduck farm application, by Discovery Diving Ltd., as proof his government is making careful decisions.
The proposed site was in view of a large number of homes, he said.
"The geoduck farm off Quadra Island really does not meet the standards or tests that are necessary from a biological perspective and certainly does not have community support.''
The aquaculture committee recommended in May that all B.C. salmon farms convert to ocean-based, closed-containment technology within five years, but the industry and government complained such technology doesn't yet exist.
Bell said he expects to bring forward a salmon aquaculture plan for B.C. later this fall.
That plan will take the recommendations of the committee and the Pacific Salmon Forum's interim report into account, he said.
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