B.C.’s NDP government needs to heed numbers, not just environmental and political theories, when it embarks on changes that threaten to sink viable and growing enterprises.
Premier John Horgan’s recent ruminations over open-net ocean fish farms along the B.C. coast are rightly raising concerns in the province’s aquaculture industry.
Salmon farming, as numbers from the BC Salmon Farmers Association illustrate, is not a marginal pursuit for B.C. businesses or the province. It now generates $1.5 billion in economic activity and directly employs 3,000 people. A lot of that activity and employment is in rural northern areas that are struggling to reset their economic compasses as forestry and other resource industries upon which B.C.’s economy has been built continue to shrink.
A recent Horgan press briefing raised doubts over the integrity of tenures for fish farms now operating along the province’s coast. The briefing addressed fallout from the B.C. minister of agriculture’s letter to a major fish farming company warning that its Broughton Archipelago salmon farm tenure might not be renewed next year.
Environmentalists have raised and continue to raise concerns over fish farms in B.C.; some of those concerns are valid, some are not.
The reality, however, is that aquaculture has become a major contributor to the food chain in a world hungry for options to augment and, in some cases, replace dwindling wild ocean stocks.
Shutting it down is not an option; increasing its efficiency and reducing its environmental footprint is.
Closed-containment land-based fish farming is seen by some as one option. But its economic viability and environmental value have yet to be proven.
Improving B.C.’s fish farming industry is a laudable goal. But damaging its enterprise engine will handicap its ability to finance those improvements. That’s not in the best interests of the industry, the province and the economies of rural B.C. communities already under duress from a rapidly changing resource industry landscape.