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Speaking at the hearing as an individual, Michelle Franze, communications manager for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, told regional district representatives that land-based salmon farming is “not going to be a feasible option.” An animated video, released by the association in October, says the technology does not exist to successfully replace all of B.C.’s open-net pen salmon farms with land-based operations.
Yet at least 75 land-based salmon farms are operating, planned or in construction around the world, including on the outskirts of Miami, Florida, where Atlantic Sapphire plans to harvest 220,000 tonnes of salmon yearly by 2030 — more than twice B.C.’s annual farmed salmon production.
In January, Grieg Seafood became the first global farmed salmon producer to invest in land-based salmon farming through a joint venture in southern Norway that will reduce the amount of time smolts spent in open-net pens and gradually produce fish to harvest size on land.
“[If] you want a fish farm, do it on land,” Chief Alfred said in an interview.
“I think if the regional district were smart, they wouldn’t want to pick this fight with seven First Nations. It’s not a good idea.”
B.C. out of step with other jurisdictions
The salmon farm rezoning and licence applications are also opposed by a coalition of environmental and wild salmon advocacy groups who have written to DFO expressing numerous concerns about the proposed 4,400-tonne grow-out operation.
The groups say numerous scientific studies show parasitic sea lice — as well as viral and bacterial pathogens such as piscine orthoreovirus (known as PRV) and Tenacibaculum maritimum, a mouth rot disease — are amplified by salmon farms and pose a significant risk to wild fish.
Stan Proboszcz, science advisor for Watershed Watch Salmon Society, one of the signatories to the letter, said in an interview that salmon farms can increase ambient levels of infectious pathogens for 30 kilometres.
The three Grieg Seafood salmon farms in Clio Channel, near Chatham Channel, were visited by delousing vessels for 70 days earlier this year, Proboszcz noted, explaining that this is unusual.
“It suggests there is some sort of serious problem here.”
Amy Jonsson, communications director for Grieg Seafood B.C., said in an email that warmer water and increased salinity created by hot, dry weather create ideal breeding conditions for lice, “who can quickly reproduce and thrive in these conditions.”
All three farms in Clio Channel currently have low numbers of sea lice due to “ongoing sampling, monitoring and when appropriate, treatment programs,” Jonsson said, pointing to the company’s publicly available sea lice reports.
Programs include the company’s Ronja Islander well boat for hydrogen peroxide treatments, as well as lice curtains, in-feed medication called SLICE and participation in a regional integrated pest management program, she said.
In an emailed response to questions, DFO said applications for new aquaculture facilities are assessed on an individual basis and “informed by departmental regulations, policy, science advice, fish health information, and consultations with First Nations, as well as other federal and provincial entities that may be involved.”
Asked when a decision will be made, the department said it has a 365-day “service standard” for processing new aquaculture applications. A public comment period for the application ends on Sept. 10.
Proboszcz said Grieg’s salmon farm application stands in contrast to the direction taken by other Pacific Northwest jurisdictions.
“Everyone in the Pacific Northwest is moving away from open-net pen salmon farms. Alaska, Washington State — Oregon does not have any — and there’s a ban in California.”
The regional district said it referred the development application and supporting information, as well as a draft of the proposed bylaw, to Kwakiutl First Nation, Mamalilikulla First Nation and Nanwakolas Council for review and input.