As the debate around the Discovery Island fish farms continues, the Strathcona Regional District has been called on to “choose a side.”
Representatives from the Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. (WTA) made their pitch to the regional district on April 28: to come out in support of the decision made by the federal government and to “recognize the needs of all constituents” in the issue.
WTA president Brianne Quesnel spoke first, saying that companies that are part of the wilderness tourism industry “depend on and thrive when there is healthy wild salmon stocks and are considered part of the wild salmon economy. Removal of these farms… will benefit communities and the wild salmon economy up and down the coast including here in the Strathcona Regional District.”
Quesnel argued that the tourism industry in B.C. was much larger than the aquaculture industry ($8.7 billion in the provincial GDP versus $3.3 billion) and that tourism in the Strathcona Regional District is worth about $40-$50 million per year.
“Anything that is a threat to healthy wild salmon is a threat to these businesses and the effect they have on the community,” Quesnel said.
Ross Campbell, a Sonora Island resident and board member with the WTA took a more ecological viewpoint, saying that he has seen increased amounts of sea lice on salmon smolts near the Discovery Islands. He also owns an ecotourism charter vessel, the Columbia III, and has seen the effects of diseased salmon on his business.
“This is not a rhetorical discussion about jobs,” he said. “This is an actual problem that is killing the wild salmon.”
However, the SRD directors were not all convinced. Tahsis director Martin Davis summed up the feeling on the board by saying “there’s a diversity in opinion among the directors here,” before saying that he agrees with the WTA and supports their ask.
Campbell River director Charlie Cornfield had a different opinion on the matter. To him it is a complex issue with no one fix, and the best course of action is to work together to solve the problem.
“Your objective is for healthy wild salmon populations, and I want to know how removing fish farms is going to accomplish that?” he asked the presenters. “It is a very complex issue, most of it is driven by man’s greed. Over-fishing, destruction of spawning habitat, the ocean itself and ocean health… just removing fish farms will not cause the salmon populations to rebound… it’s not going to make more grizzly bears, it’s not going to make more rainforests and it’s not going to make a more healthy ocean.”
Campbell River director Claire Moglove thought there could be a way both sides could come together on the issue and find a middle ground. When the B.C. Salmon Farmer’s Association spoke to the regional district in March, they asked for the regional district to support their request for more time to adapt to the change.
“In no way, shape or form are they asking for a reversal,” Moglove said. “They’re asking for (the ability to transfer smolts to different pens, a more equitable process, and more time). I don’t understand how the two sides can’t come together on the three things.”
The regional district did not end up “choosing a side” at the meeting, though Cortes Island director Noba Anderson said she wanted to start moving in that direction.
“I don’t disagree with Charlie Cornfield’s statement, but it certainly can’t hurt,” she said, calling removal “one of the many pieces that are required.”
Check back with the Mirror for updates to this issue.