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Betrayed by Our Fisheries Minister

As BC's sockeye disaster unfolded, she flogged fish farms in Norway.

By Rafe Mair 7 Sep 2009 |

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair here. He also acts as a spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society.

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Conservative Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea.

Here is the story from the Black Press, scarcely known for left wing tendencies:

"The Fraser River sockeye run is winding up and millions of missing salmon still haven't shown up.

"The Pacific Salmon Commission estimates the run size at 1.37 million sockeye -- the worst on record and significantly below the last two dismal years, which fishermen had hoped would not be repeated.

"Observers see the result as a sign of ecological catastrophe.

"And there's little hope more of the forecast run of 10.5 million sockeye will materialize."

Moreover, as we have long known, several runs of Pink salmon are near extinction in the Broughton Archipelago.

In the meantime, at the height of the collapse of the world renowned Fraser River sockeye, where was Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea?

She, along with 50 government financed delegates, were in Trondheim, Norway attending the world's largest aquaculture conference on behalf of the government of Canada!

Selling BC fish farming to the world

When asked by filmmaker Damien Gillis why she was there, she said it was because she "supports aquaculture in Canada which is an important part of our economy". When Gillis tried to video the Canadian delegation he was refused by the Canadian DFO director for information because he wouldn't tell her how he intended to use the film!

Let's lay some facts on the table here. Sea lice from salmon farms are killing our migrating salmon, including sockeye from the Fraser. As Dr. John Volpe, a noted fish biologist, recently made clear, the world's independent fish biologists "spoke with one voice" and that the impact connection of lice from fish farms on wild salmon is "indisputable".

Minister Gail Shea, on her trip to Trondheim demonstrated beyond doubt that not only did she know nothing of this west coast catastrophe, but didn't care to learn. So we have from the leading scientists of the world that the connection of fish farm sea lice and wild salmon is indisputable, while the Minister in charge uncritically supports the fish farm industry. Clearly, to her, we're just typical B.C. bitchers trying to interfere with the legitimate work of government.

DFO's true duty is to protect, not market

Let's turn now to Otto Langer, a highly respected scientist with DFO who, in 2002, quit in disgust after 32 years when he could no longer stand the department forgetting its mandate and working to support for fish farms. He talks of the duty of DFO under the legislation "to conserve and protect fish habitat". Mr. Langer pointed out that the DFO policy would not only condemn our salmon to extinction but also wipe out B.C. icons such as bears and eagles.

Now let's move back to Minister Shea. Some years ago the DFO, which was responsible for aquaculture, turned this responsibility over to the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fish who made an ongoing balls-up of their new mandate. Earlier this year, Alexandra Morton, who has led the fight to move fish farms out of the path of migrating salmon, won a landmark court decision which sent the responsibility back to DFO.

Morton said that she just wanted the DFO to "enforce the law". And this gets to the meat of the matter.

It is not the job of the DFO to promote aquaculture. Its job is to protect Canada's fisheries. If Canada is to promote businesses -- and there are many deserving of promotion -- it is the sworn duty of the industry minister to ensure that his promoted industries, as a condition precedent, obey the law very much including those which are or should be administered by DFO.

The minister in charge of the DFO is the cop in this exercise. It is her job to ensure that any industry which affects Canada's fisheries obeys the strictures of the Fisheries Act. That is her sworn duty.

Authorities who fear dissent

We are bovine masses in this country. Once in awhile we raise our faces out of our beer glasses, divert out attention momentarily from the sitcom and mumble, "Yes, I suppose the fisheries minister shouldn't be shilling for fish farms. Now where were we?"

Moreover, as we plod our weary way to the polls -- 50 per cent of us, that is -- we will vote the government back in or elect a new one which we know will change nothing.

What other country calling itself a democracy would throw peaceful protesters in jail after pepper spraying them as we did during APEC Conference in 1997? (One law student was physically abused and thrown in jail for carrying a cloth sign saying "Free Speech" and "Democracy".)

More to the point and up to date, what country would spend a billion dollars making sure that protesters at the Olympics would be kept out of sight of those protested against thus meaning -- and this is the main point -- no TV cameras could show that everything wasn't "all things bright and beautifu" (in the words of the syrupy Anglican jingle) amongst those paying for this extravaganza?

With this national attitude, is it any wonder then that our fisheries are destroyed under the watchful eyes of those set in authority over us when they know we won't do anything about it? I've been part of a good many protests and for the most part they are made up of the same young people (with one notable exception) each time.

Get some exercise. Join a protest.

I leave this epistle with this question. To all you British Columbians who care about our salmon, see it as the soul of our province, who are pained at the sight of what the governments are doing... what the hell are you going to do about it?

Are you too busy to support Alexandra Morton, the Wilderness Committee, the Save Our Rivers Society and others who are carrying this fight on your behalf?

Will you not challenge the sell-outs that lead you?

Will you not take this fight personally and fight as if these fish were yours, which they are?

You might all, for starters, try joining a protest. You'll find out that at least you have the satisfaction of trying.

To all British Columbians: If you don't try, you're no better off sitting on your asses than are those in authority who have chosen the same position.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Food

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