Monday, May 5, 2014

Skeena MLA Austin outlines Northwest Aquaculture concerns at Committee session

Skeena MLA Robin Austin took advantage of a recent Committee hearing on Agriculture to raise a number of concerns regarding the intentions of the Provincial Government when it comes to Aquaculture in the Northwest.

Recent changes regarding the intentions of the Department of Fisheries on the theme of aquaculture have begun to raise alarm bells on the North and Central Coasts, where those opposed to even the rumour of increased aquaculture activity in the region have taken their concerns to the Skeena MLA.

Mr. Austin took those concerns and outlined some of his thoughts as well in the Committee Session, asking a number of questions of Norm Letnick, the Minister of Agriculture who also has responsibility on aquaculture issues.

He outlined those issues at the April 28th afternoon session, seeking some clarification on the position of the Province of British Columbia when it comes to aquaculture on the North and Central Coast.

As my colleague has mentioned, I do have a couple of questions relating to one specific recommendation that came out of that aquaculture committee. 

For a sense of context, after the report was made, Alexandra Morton then went to court and challenged the original agreement upon which some of the regulations around aquaculture had been devolved from the federal government, from DFO, to the provincial government. She was successful in court, and as a result, a lot of the policy around aquaculture went back to DFO. 

My question is very specific. The only recommendation that the B.C. Liberal government of the day enacted that came out of that report was one that said there should be no new fish farms north of Cape Caution. The committee basically looked at the fish farm issue over several months and determined that there were serious problems with aquaculture. Most of those problems, of course, took place off the coast of southern Vancouver, where there was a proliferation of fish farms. Those of us who looked to try and protect the Skeena and the Nass and the Stikine rivers didn't want to see that — whatever the problems were — repeated up north, and the government of the day agreed. 

The Minister of Agriculture at the time, who was from Prince George, issued an order-in-council, No. 174, stating that "a minister, ministry and agent of the Crown must not do the following: (a) issue a licence under section 14 of the Fisheries Act permitting finfish aquaculture in or on the tidal waters of the province of British Columbia that are north of 52 degrees, 50 minutes latitude, and (b) dispose of land for the purpose of finfish aquaculture in or on the tidal waters of the province of British Columbia that are north of 52 degrees, 50 minutes latitude." 

My question to the minister is this. Acknowledging that DFO now has a large role to play in aquaculture, is this order-in-council still standing firm? Are we assured that there are going to be no finfish aquaculture sites on the coast of north and central B.C.?

For his part, the Minister of Agriculture offered up a short reply that the province's Order in Council was still in effect.

As a follow up, MLA Austin asked that the Minister remind the Federal Government of that provision when he travels to Ottawa in June.

He continued to outline some of the concerns of residents of the North Coast, who are nervous over some of the constitutional change with some of the regulations with the Department of Fisheries and how that may impact on the nature of the Province's wishes on aquaculture in the region.

You can review the full exchange between MLA Austin and Minister Letnick from the Committee Session Minutes Archive. Mr. Austin's concerns start at the 1535 mark.

The Video of the conversation can be found on the Monday April 28th portion of the Legislature Video Archive page, the discussion starts at the 37 minute mark on the video timeline.

We have more on developments from the Legislature available on our Archive page.

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