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Aquaculture trade show draws international protest

The presence of the federal fisheries minister at an international aquaculture trade show is sending the wrong message to B.C.'s beleaguered salmon fishing industry, said protesters at a rally in downtown Vancouver today.

Minister Gail Shea is in Trondheim, Norway this week at the annual Aqua Nor trade show, where, in 2005, Canada showcased sustainable aquaculture management as the event's feature country. Things have changed since then.

Now, Norwegian companies are being blamed for the decline of wild stocks -- and, fueled by a reports of a record low for Fraser River sockeye returns -- the issue is gaining international attention.

This week, the organization Pure Salmon sent King Harald of Norway a video about the negative impacts of Norweigan-owned fish farms here in B.C. Earlier this month, Canadian celebrity William Shatner made news by sending a letter to federal and provincial leaders asking that fish farms be removed from wild salmon routes.

Several government-commissioned reports from the Pacific Salmon Forum and Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture have acknowledged the link between fish farms and the spread of sea lice to wild populations. Both recommended a cap on production at open-net fish farms, and investment in closed-containment technology.

"For one reason or another, the government has decided to simply distance themselves from the very direction they sought by funding these things in the first place," said Bob Chamberlin, chief of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah-kwa-mish First Nation.

"They would rather stay in the delay, deny and distract mode about the impacts that this industry has."

Chamberlin said several aboriginal fisheries organizations are planning a meeting mid-September to decide on aquaculture resolutions to bring to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Next year, the DFO will assume responsibility of B.C.'s aquaculture industry, which has been under provincial jurisdiction.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says he hopes B.C.'s own Shawn Atleo, who was elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, will help bring about change at a federal level.

"For both B.C. and Canada the priority is on economics, the creation of jobs and revenues to the treasury. They're not fulfilling their obligations to the wild salmon itself," Stewart said. "This province is going to wake up one day and find out wild salmon is gone the way of Atlantic cod."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee

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