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New fish farm proposal spawns call for moratorium

A proposal from one of B.C.'s largest fishery operators to establish a new 56-hectare open-net fish farm in Clayoquot Sound has led to calls for a permanent moratorium on such facilities.

"We don't want to see expansion of salmon farming in net cages at all," said Michelle Young of the Georgia Strait Alliance, one of a group of organizations calling for the ban.

Mainstream Canada, which already operates 14 open-net salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound and produces around 25 thousand tonnes of fish annually, submitted a tenure application to the provincial government, according to the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform.

This is the first proposal under a new arrangement where the provincial and federal governments share the role of vetting applications.

The alliance -- which also includes the David Suzuki Foundation and Living Oceans Society cites a litany of issues with open-net salmon farming, such as sea lice, algae blooms, marine mammal deaths and waste deposits on the ocean floor. 

The proposed farm would contain 12 open-net cages measuring 1,230 metres in length and 30 metres in width, and would produce some three thousand tonnes of salmon every year, according to a Mainstream statement.

"We would like see transition to closed containment farming," said Young. 

Closed system aquaculture tanks limit the impact on the surrounding ecosystem by "controlling the interface between the fish and the natural environment," according to a Coastal Alliance publication.

But Mainstream has no intention of making the transition. "They don’t feel it's economically viable," said Young.

In a statement issued by Mainstream, the company said it is "following the development of closed-containment aquaculture," but is not yet prepared implement such technology.

"We believe that present technology for open net pens allows for sustainable aquaculture, and we aim at demonstrating this in our operations through management of environmental impacts."

Mainstream conducted extensive studies of the surrounding ecosystem, the ocean floor, currents and animal habitat before filing its application, according to the statement.  The company does not expect its operations will have an impact on any of them.

But Bonny Glambeck from the Friends of Clayoquot Sound is not convinced.

"We are basically playing Russian roulette with our ecosystem," she said.

Glambeck said the addition of another farm to the area would further amplify the diseases found in wild salmon populations and contribute additional toxins to the marine environment.

"Then there’s the issue of sustainability," she said. "How many farm sites are we going to have in Clayoquot Sound?"

The proposed farm would be located near Plover Point on the east side of Meares Island, an area rich in marine life and popular amongst sea-kayaking tourists, said Glambeck.

Twenty-two fish farms currently operate in Clayoquot Sound, but none exist in the ecologically important area off Meares Island, she said.

"There are endangered species in the area, many salmon creeks along the shores of the island, and this farm would impact all of those things."

Mainstream Canada is a wholly owned division of EWOS Ltd., a component of the Norwegian company Cermaq.  Cermaq operates in Chile, Norway, Scotland and Canada.

"This is about a Norwegian company needing to increase its profits for its shareholders and we don’t believe that B.C. should bare the burden of that," said Glambeck.

Clayoquot Sound is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The UNESCO website describes such reserves as "sites of excellence where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated."

UNESCO recognizes Clayoquot Sound as one of the world’s important ecosystems, but the designation doesn’t provide any added protection, said Glambeck.

"The designation is meant to demonstrate the ability of man to live sustainably in an environment," she said. "But from that perspective alone, salmon farming doesn’t fit the type of industry that is sustainable."

Mainstream expects to start stocking the farm by spring of 2012, but must first earn the right to operate on provincial crown land from the B.C. government. Following the land tenure process, the company must also apply to Fisheries and Oceans Canada before it can begin operating the new farm.

Tyler Harbottle is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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