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Salmon farms receive district approval

VANCOUVER - A proposed salmon farming facility near Johnstone Strait will likely be approved by the Strathcona regional district, despite concerns that wild salmon are vulnerable to sea lice infection through this narrow migratory route.

Yesterday, district directors passed the third reading of a motion to rezone two sites north of Sayward for Grieg Seafood, an aquaculture company. Each site can accommodate up to 700,000 Atlantic salmon.

The rezoning motion comes with some strings attached, however. Under new amendments, Grieg may only operate one of the two farms at a time, and must provide a letter of intent indicating it will put resources into developing a closed-containment system.

Roy Grant, vice-chair of the regional district, calls the compromise a "win-win situation."

"Not only are we going to retain and have more jobs created because of the fish farm industry...but also we now have an opportunity for one of the larger fish farm companies to participate in developing some of the closed containment opportunities."

The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) says it's not good enough. The consortium of environmental groups called for the closure of five salmon farms near Quadra Island, south of Grieg's proposed sites, earlier this month. The aim is to create a farm-free migration route going north from the Georgia Strait.

"Negotiation with government and industry to make any change on the ground, or in the water, so to speak, tends to take a really long time," said Michelle Young, salmon aquaculture campaigner for the Georgia Strait Alliance.

Young said she is skeptical that the proposed facility will ever move to closed containment and is not enthusiastic about Grieg's promise to monitor sea lice levels at the site.

"We're already monitoring for sea lice around the farms," Young said. "You can do all kinds of attempts at mitigating but more fish farms ultimately means more sea lice in the water column."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans maintains that no direction cause and effect relationship has been established between sea lice from salmon farms and the abundance of wild populations. However, there is scientific evidence showing that salmon farms produce large numbers of sea lice, and juvenile salmon near farms have higher rates of infection.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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