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NDP tables fish farm bill

Federal NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly introduced a bill in the House of Commons today that would require B.C.'s fish farm operators to move to closed containment systems.

Closed containment, as opposed to farms where fish are contained in a net in the ocean, provides a barrier between fish and the ocean environment. This method of fish farming been proposed as a way to both control the escape of farmed salmon and the spread of disease to wild salmon.

Donnelly, the MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody, says the federal Fisheries and Oceans Standing Committee has heard conflicting evidence from government and independent biologists on whether fish farms are responsible for increasing sea lice infection rates in wild stocks.

The government position is that fish farms have not contributed to the decline of wild salmon, but environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation and Living Oceans Society have endorsed a transition to closed containment farms as a precautionary measure. Last year the provincially-appointed Pacific Salmon Forum also recommended that the province design and implement a commercial-scale closed containment facility for farming salmon.

Trevor Swerdfager, director of the federal fisheries and aquaculture department, told the standing committee in March that "by no means are we anti-closed-containment -- far from it. Certainly, if that technology is the future of the industry and were it to evolve, we'd be very supportive of that. But I think that the current state of play is such that closed containment, at least as we see it, is not viable today or in the short-term foreseeable future."

Raising salmon in a closed containment system is proving viable for at least one company -- the Washington-based Aquaseed. In April, it struck a deal with Overwaitea Food Group to sell farmed Coho salmon in Overwaitea grocery stores.

Donnelly said that, should the bill pass into law, there would be a period of 18 months in which the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans would have to prepare, table and implement a transition plan.

"It is viable now, we can make the move, and we must protect our wild salmon by making our move," said Donnelly.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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