Washington senator wants B.C. to follow suit and phase out net-pen fish farms

An American ban will be less effective in the shared ecosystem of the Salish Sea, senator says

A Washington senator says he wants to see British Columbia join the state in phasing out ocean-based Atlantic salmon farms when the province decides whether to renew farm leases in June.

An American ban will be less effective in the shared ecosystem of the Salish Sea if fish farms continue to operate in Canadian waters, said Democrat Sen. Kevin Ranker.

The Washington state senate and house of representatives have recently passed bills that would phase out net-pen farms when their leases come up for renewal over the next seven years.

“The salmon, the orca whale, the ecosystem doesn’t recognize the international boundary,” Ranker said.

“So what we have to do is manage our transboundary region in a responsible way. And I hope Washington state will pass this legislation and move in this direction and I hope that British Columbia will do the same.”

Each bill passed with about a two-thirds majority. Now the senate and the house are considering each other’s proposed laws.

The bills are expected to pass into law when approved by both the house and the senate.

The house bill also calls for an industry study to be submitted to the legislature by Nov. 1, 2019.

The move to phase out fish farms comes after hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped last summer from a farm in Washington state, owned by Canadian company Cooke Aquaculture.

A state review of the farm found the net failed because it was weighed down by 100 tonnes of mussels and debris, due to insufficient maintenance.

Some First Nations and environmentalists in B.C. have protested net-pen fish farms, saying they spread viruses and diseases to wild salmon stocks.

Farm-raised salmon is B.C.’s top agricultural export. There are more than ten times as many fish farms in British Columbia than Washington state.

Jeremy Dunn, spokesman for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said the senator may not be aware of Canadian regulations that govern things like containment.

“From a regulatory perspective, that’s an entirely different country and we have a different regime here,” Dunn said.

“And let’s not forget that salmon farming in B.C. is worth more than a billion and a half dollars to our economy. It’s a well-managed business that supports 6,600 jobs and has done so for many years and has a great future here supported by world-leading science.”

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is responsible for the tenure renewal process in B.C., while the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for aquaculture licensing.

Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson said in a statement that the B.C. government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 jobs that depend on it, and is working with First Nations, the aquaculture industry and the federal government.

“What we all agree on is the importance of protecting wild salmon for the cultural and economic benefits it brings to B.C.,” Donaldson said.

Federal fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was not immediately available for an interview.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was also unavailable for an interview, but his deputy communications director Tara Lee said in an email that he supports the phase out of net pens for non-native fish.

He believes that a phase out is crucial for wild salmon recovery and tribal treaty rights, Lee said.

However, Inslee believes it’s up to British Columbia’s government to decide what is best for the province, she added.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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