FACEBOOK.COM/SWANSON OCCUPATION A now-halted occupation of the Swanson Island fish farm off the North Island began late last summer. The Namgis are in court next week seeking an injunction to prevent the farms restocking.

FACEBOOK.COM/SWANSON OCCUPATION A now-halted occupation of the Swanson Island fish farm off the North Island began late last summer. The Namgis are in court next week seeking an injunction to prevent the farms restocking.

Kervin’s Corner: Alexandra Morton challenges marine industry to public debate – let’s give her one

‘Funny enough, de facto leaders of the protest movement seem to rely on Indigenous backing’

In a recent Facebook post released on February 22, Alexandra Morton challenged the fish farm industry to a public debate in a fiery video condemning BC MLAs and industry scientists alike. She has called on researchers, scientists or anyone educated in marine biology to discuss the issue.

Funnily enough, de facto leaders of the protest movement seem to rely on Indigenous backing — a form of environmental colonialism. These same leaders need First Nations support to lend some legitimacy to anti-fish farm campaigns. They use First Nations culture, our hereditary chiefs, as tokens.

A lot of First Nations communities need fish farms to survive. A great deal of band administrations, chiefs and councillors, have royalty agreements with fish farm companies. In fact, 40 First Nations communities across Canada are involved in the industry.

Just as our local First Nations are getting on their feet, we’re stifled by a movement of which would destroy any chance at economic self-sufficiency.

While I am no scientist myself, I’d like to think that public debate is open to any informed person. The fish farm industry is a public policy issue as much as it is an environmental issue.

The environmental impacts from fish farms has been covered ad nauseum. What it comes down to is possibly this – is the industry employing enough people, putting food on the table for hard-working employees and their families, to justify fish farms to continue running?

Fish farms provide roughly 10,000 jobs across the country. Most of these jobs are based in British Columbia. Aquaculture also has a direct, indirect and induced employment of around 11, 414 people – jobs created in industries connected to aquaculture, say, fish processing plants or transportation. The aquaculture industry, not just fish farms, also provides roughly 14,000 jobs. A majority of these jobs are located in small, rural communities – like Port Hardy. To get even more specific, the Campbell River and Comox regions employ around 3,968 people in the industry.

The value of aquaculture production in Canada is nearing one billion dollars. In B.C. alone, aquaculture economic impacts result in a staggering half a billion dollars. In fact, Canada is the fourth largest exporter of farmed salmon and shellfish across the world. In 2013, B.C. accounted for almost half, 49 per cent, of Canada’s aquaculture production volume. B.C.’s aquaculture also accounts for nearly $200 million with direct impact on gross domestic product.

It’s certainly fair to say that Port Hardy’s economy would stagnate, if not plummet, if it weren’t for aquaculture. So before we go into the environmental impacts of fish farms, it’s only fair to dig into the economic impacts it would have if we did decide to shut it down. Clearly, it would mean a tremendous loss of jobs on the North Island.

It’s also clear that shutting down fish farms would not only be unfair to many BC workers – it’s unfair to the rest of Canada. Our national aquaculture exports would freefall.

We can’t limit ourselves to only talking about environmental impacts or scientific studies, because it truly is the backbone of our economy. It’s one of our main sources of jobs.

So let’s not go into a debate framed strictly around the talking points of environmental impact.

Because once we discuss that it’s clear there is no debate – it’s what keeps our North Island communities alive. Regardless of whether you think I missed the real issue, we simply can’t just ignore its immense impact on our regional economy.

I certainly don’t support fish farming malpractice in locations where there is clear evidence. However, to shut down all fish farms because of poor stewardship of a few aquaculture companies is simply unfair to our North Island residents.

I just want to put the employment numbers out where we all can see.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.