Salmon smokers worried BC politics out-of-touch

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In a sign of the times for British Columbia, Canada — where off-balance politicians have aired moving open-net farms or bringing them ashore —  a sane salmon-smoker in the province has resorted to letter-writing to newspapers and the provincial leader.

In a province where dozens of salmon smokers employ hundreds of people, the sometimes loud, absurd-sounding politics of salmon is beginning to press commercial nerves. With the courts having to intervene to ensure the smooth stocking of salmon farms, the province’s salmon smokers have voiced their concern.

“The fact is, without salmon-farming, our smoked-fish business would likely be forced to shut down, putting us and 75 employees out of work,” wrote Carol and Bruce Dirom of Port Hardy’s Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish Inc. in a letter to their provincial Premier that was posted in the Times Colonist.

Big employer
With slowing corporately owned salmon farms seemingly a priority of First Nations indigenous people, the Hardy Buoys owners felt compelled to point out that over half of their staff are members of First Nations. The company, founded in 1994 — with its 24,000-square-foot facility that processes 680 tonnes of farmed salmon a year — is one of Port Hardy’s largest employers.

With First Nations like the Namgis threatening to stop the renewal of some of the province’s 115 salmon farms (20 percent of which are run by First Nations) — and with politicians like B.C. Forests Minister, Doug Donaldsen, suggesting marine farms could simply be moved on-land — the Dirom’s are worried competing salmon science has left people so wrongly informed, that it’s threatening both the salmon-farming industry and a processing industry dependent on farmed fish but handling a variety of wild species.

Salmon-dependent
“Without the steady, reliable supply of fish from farms, we wouldn’t have the certainty needed to stay in business,” the Dirom’s wrote, adding that Hardy Buoys is largely a wild-fish processor. A large part of their north, Vancouver-Island community, the Diroms bought a local mall in 2016 that kept Port Hardy in business and then leased space to local Gwa-sala-Nakwaxda First Nations for cold storage.

“We encourage B.C.’s government to consider the issues in fish farming in a sensible and pragmatic fashion, setting aside politics and hyperbole in favour of science and community interests,” they wrote.

Minister Donaldson has said that while he’s “very interested” in moving open-net farms — and he’s in charge of 22 Atlantic salmon leases up for renewal in June — but that he cannot ban open-net farms because they’re regulated by Ottawa.

Broughton flash point
“We’re very concerned as a government about protecting wild salmon and the migratory routes that they use and we’re very interested in moving to closed containment where feasible,” Donaldson said in an interview with On the Island host Gregor Craigie.”

Meanwhile, 18 fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago off northwest Vancouver Island are opposed by six First Nations bands with competing seafood claims in the area.

The Federal government negotiates with the First Nations on behalf of all fish-farm operators in the province. Ottawa has also stepped up its drive to increase the benefits and involvement of First Nations in aquaculture.

The Broughton area, however, has been a thorn in the Federal Government’s and salmon farmers’ side. In March, the Namgis filed suit to stop the restocking of Marine Harvest’s Swanson Island fish farm pending a Department of Fisheries and Oceans inspection “for disease” (piscine reovirus).

The DFO responded by assigning a newly appointed Chief Science Officer to the case. A Canadian federal judge responded by dismissing the injunction to stop smolt transfers at Swanson.