NDP Fisheries Critic Donnelly confident fish farm bill will succeed


From the New Westminster Leader – May 26, 2011

by Adam MacNair

Open-net fish farming is harming B.C.’s wild salmon stocks, says Fin Donnelly, and with the NDP now the official opposition he believes he can stop it.

The NDP MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam introduced a
private member’s bill last May (The Wild Salmon Protection Act, C-518),
but the election wiped it from the parliamentary agenda.

Donnelly, NDP critic for Fisheries and Oceans, wants to
amend the federal Fisheries Act to transition fish farms to closed

Closed containment, as opposed to farms where fish swim
in a net in the ocean, provides a solid barrier between fish and the
ocean environment, which scientists believe would prevent sea lice
infections in wild salmon.

But while the Harper government has not moved to bring
about legislation forcing salmon companies into closed containment
farming, the industry has taken to using pesticides to control sea lice.
Donnelly says that’s an initial positive step, but cautions it’s a
temporary solution as the parasites become immune to chemicals.

“Some would argue industry-wide you’d have no problem with sea lice once you contain it,” he said.

Donnelly presented a 9,000-signature petition in March
calling on Ottawa to take action against open-net fish farms.
Buttressing his private member’s bill, he’s calling for federal
regulations to require companies to shift to closed containment farming
within five years.

“We felt that five years was a reasonable transition period,” he said, adding that some companies employ closed farming.

But not everybody agrees with the need. Vivian Krause, a
Vancouver writer and researcher on salmon farming, says she’s noted
serious flaws in the scientific research driving the call for

Krause says much of the panic is based on a series of
papers published by the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the
University of Alberta in 2005 that displays a lack of adequate research,
data-fudging and unsubstantiated claims.

“As I see it, closed containment is about mitigating
market impacts, not environmental impacts,” she said, adding containment
practices need more research.

Donnelly disagrees.

“Whether or not there is an impact from a parasite, the
end result is, if people believe there is then you can’t sell your

The sea lice research that predicted salmon extinctions
took a hard hit last autumn when as many as 34 million salmon returned
to spawn in the Fraser River. Donnelly said that doesn’t disprove the
science. “It’s like climate change. It’s really hard to look at the
individual year. You’ve got to look at the overall trend.”

Krause says there are serious environmental considerations to containment farming because it is energy intensive.

“A transition to closed containment would increase emissions equivalent to putting thousands of cars on the road.”

Donnelly says it’s premature to talk about
reintroducing legislation, adding the Conservatives now control the
parliamentary agenda. But he says he’s confident they’ll agree with the

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.