Fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson on salmon farms: “We need to get beyond this debate that nobody is winning right now”

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Federal fisheries minister to pursue a precautionary approach to salmon farms in B.C.

The North Island Gazette reports that Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Jonathan Wilkinson is finding it difficult to please both sides of the debate around moving salmon farms in British Columbia, Canada.

In December, SalmonBusiness reported that a new farm-free migration corridor to help reduce harm to wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, will mean that at least 17 sites could be gone 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.

“Clearly there has been a lot of debate in British Columbia about a range of different issues,” he told the publication 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.”

When pressed, Wilkinson wouldn’t comment about removing fish farms from the migration routes but said the approach would vary depending from place to place. He also said that government was also studying closed-containment options.

“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.

In December, a ruling overturned a policy that smolts do not have to be tested for Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV) or Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) in order for fish farmers to release them into open-water aquaculture pens. The ruling was done on behalf Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, representing anti-salmon farming advocates.

Scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada were among 33 members of a peer review panel who looked at the data and risk assessment of PRV. and concluded that the risk to British Columbia’s Fraser River sockeye salmon was minimal. However, 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 added.