Alexandra Morton has spent over 20 years studying whales and salmon on the B.C. coast. That led her, inevitably, into conflicts about the fish farming industry. She has argued, on the evidence of her own research and others’, that farming Atlantic salmon is destroying B.C.’s native wild salmon.
After a vote taken last week by the Strathcona Regional District, it looked as if Morton and the supporters of wild salmon had sustained their worst defeat yet.
Morton isn't giving up -- but she is demanding that British Columbians take serious action if they really do want to save the salmon.
Last weekend Morton sent a letter to members of several newsgroups, setting out the problem. Excerpts from that letter:
"On June 25, 2009, the Strathcona Regional District rural directors opened the door to fish farming on the jugular of the B.C. coast. Every other fish farm has been sited among braided waterways, but this Grieg application is for one of the biggest fish farms on the B.C. coast to be lodged where 1/3 of all Canada's Pacific salmon pass on their voyage back to us through Johnstone Strait.
"Sensing some public opposition to this decision, the board did consider the risks and asked Grieg to compromise. But the concessions Grieg responded with are worthless tradebeads of deception as they are either impossible or irrelevant.
"The media reports they offer to harvest their fish before the wild salmon migrations, but they know their fish need to be in our ocean for 22 months and ours migrate every 12 months. They say they will have zero lice, but they know this is impossible with the drugs we allow in Canada. And they say they will turn off their growlights in the spring, when they never use them anyway.
"I know the fish farmers and I know the governments; in fact, they are often the same people. And most of all I know the fish...
'Wild salmon are failing'
"A Norwegian corporation has become gatekeeper to the Fraser, East Vancouver Island, and south coast Mainland rivers, and our fish are their market competitors.
"I have tried to bring reason to the B.C. fish farming industry for 21 years. My community has been lost. The science is done. The courts ruled the way it has been regulated is unconstitutional. The people of the B.C. coast are aware of the issue now.
"Wild salmon are failing and sea lice, diseases, and massive schools of salmon predators parked in pens every few km along their migration routes are clearly not helping. Anyone who looks can see that.
"And yet every level of government from federal to regional favours farm salmon over wild salmon. Since this is a democracy, I have to assume at this point that B.C. has made its choice.
'I have no right'
"There are many places on this coast that government could play with this risky business, so when I see one of the biggest farm applications ever, being handed B.C.'s primary wild salmon artery by the most local, on-the-ground level of government, I have to think, 'This is OK with B.C. This is what B.C. wants.'
"The next day I watched farm smolts pour through a hose from a truck. I could see the Atlantic salmon in the translucent tube swimming above black pavement falling into the farm boat and I thought, 'This is what B.C. has chosen.'
"I thought about cool forest rivers, and what the first salmon of this coast looked like as they enter the sea. Feeding trout, birds, then whales, my children, you, and the trees that make us oxygen and stabilize our climate.
"...I have no right to tell B.C. one salmon is better than the other. You have clearly made the choice.
"So British Columbia, here is what I am going to do.
"I can't sustain this effort against every level of government because no matter how thin the veneer of democracy, you did vote for them, you had the choice and you picked the people who are giving our coast to the Norwegian salmon 'farmers.'
'British Columbia, over to you'
"If you want wild salmon in British Columbia, you will need to roar all the way from Campbell River to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, because only you have the power to turn this around and let the wild lifeblood of this coast survive.
"If I can hear you, I will meet you wherever you take a stand, but until then, good luck in your decision. British Columbia, it is over to you.
Alexandra Morton Adopt a Fry"
'Only the public can turn this around'
Interviewed by The Tyee, Morton speculated that the Strathcona Regional District wanted to compromise, "because if they said no, they'd be overridden by the province."
She also emphasized that "Only the public can turn this around. The province won't care for four years, but the feds may have to listen to us."
Reflecting on the recent provincial election, Morton saw one silver lining: "People can't just write a cheque to some environmental organization and forget about it. They have to take personal action."
The Strathcona Regional District's website contains detailed files containing submissions on 'Bylaw No. 29,' as well as the minutes of the June 25 meeting, which includes numerous last-minute submissions.
In addition to Adopt-a-Fry, Alexandra Morton posts on Calling from the Coast.com, a video blog.
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