|BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross|
spoke to Aquaculture issues on
Monday at the Legislature
Mr. Ross outlined some of the economic analysis of the aquaculture industry in the province, noting there had been an increase of 37 per cent over the past three years in the value of the aquaculture sector to the province's economy, something which he noted had created 1,600 jobs in many coastal and First Nations communities.
In 2016, British Columbia set new export records in terms of our agricultural and seafood products for the fourth year in a row. Of the top five seafood products that B.C. exports, farmed salmon was No. 1, at $545 million.
This year an independent economic analysis of the salmon aquaculture industry in B.C. showed an increase of 37 percent over the past three years in its value to the province. This resulted in the creation of over 1,600 jobs. Most of these jobs are in remote communities, coastal communities, giving scarce employment opportunities to First Nations.
Despite all these benefits of our aquaculture industry, the provincial government has declared war on fish farms. It's a matter of record in this House that the Minister of Agriculture has had to defend an eviction-like letter to a major fish farm operative that threatened to take away their land tenure.
As part of his presentation to the Legislature the Skeena MLA called upon his experience as Chief Councillor of the Haisla and how he and his government of the time had explored the themes of the impact of aquaculture on wild salmon.
Noting that even with a moratorium on fish farms in North Coast waters, the Skeena River system has also seen significant stock issues over the years, something that can't be attributed to the Aquaculture industry.
When I was a chief councillor of Haisla, I, like many other First Nations, was — and still am — concerned about the health of wild salmon stocks. Even though there are no fish farms in Douglas Channel, on Haisla territory, we see inconsistent runs in different years.
The Skeena River sockeye run has been declining too — again, with no fish farms in sight. So we have to ask ourselves a simple question: what is really affecting wild salmon?
The answers I found back then, and today, have little to do with fish farms. There are certain factors raised by scientists in the Cohen Commission and other credible reports that point to the real culprits. These include ocean warming, habitat damage to streams and rivers, and overfishing ...
Everyone in this House wants to ensure that our wild salmon not only survive but thrive for the enjoyment of generations to come. To do that, surely we need to start with the real problems that are causing our salmon population to dwindle. And, yes, it's easy to point fingers all in one direction.
As chief councillor of a small band on the west coast of British Columbia, I couldn't get anyone interested in my viewpoint on wild salmon in relation to fish farms. Hopefully, as an elected MLA, I can convince some, if not all, members of this House to start an open, non-partisan dialogue about the survival of wild salmon in B.C. and around the world. To do that, I believe we have to change the conversation.
He further expanded on elements of those themes, at times cautioned by Deputy Speaker Chouhan towards drifting towards partisan rhetoric in his presentation to the Legislature.
On the government side of the aisle, Doug Routley, the Member for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, picked up on the Speaker's notes, and expressed disappointment in how the Mr. Ross and the Liberals were approaching the issue.
Now, I have to register my disappointment with the member. The member came to this House with a commitment to doing things differently. This is a province that has had to fight so many proposals that they have felt are in the public's disinterest. They have been driven upon communities, and they have felt that those things have not been in their interest. So this province has developed the habit of needing to fight us-versus-them battles.
The member came here saying he would employ a different kind of politics. We need to move on. The politics of division are over. We need to bring people together in the public interest of British Columbia. That's our job as legislators. The member came here with strong words of unity, and there's a wide gap, from his engagement here today. The tired politics of division are over.
The real, progressive leaders in this province are embracing the idea that we will work together, and there is no more important issue that we have to approach with that principle than this. We need to balance things. We need to bring people together for scientific, for social and for environmental consideration. We need to work with people, work with rural communities, the distant communities that the member spoke about, and educate people in big urban centres about what is at stake.
That too earned the NDP MLA a reproach from the Deputy Speaker, who was eager to try to keep the focus of the debate on the theme of Aquaculture.
Towards that discussion, Mr. Ross gained the final comment, making note of a recent Financial Post article (which we reviewed yesterday on the blog) as well as to where he hopes the discussion on aquaculture may go towards.
Some of you may have read an article in the Financial Post this past weekend. I was one of several First Nations leaders who expressed frustration, because every time we try to attract an industry that will help our people out of poverty into self-sufficiency, our voices get drowned out by activists.
I realize that movie stars and pop icons bring a high profile to issues, but responsible development should be science-based and not funded by interest groups from the United States. I'm sure that California wouldn't appreciate salmon biologists telling them what's wrong with Hollywood and how they should fix it.
I want my people to benefit from wild salmon, just as generations have for thousands of years. It was said in this House that the spirit of wild salmon is in all of us. If that is true, then we should begin an open dialogue before shutting down an entire industry. Without farmed salmon, we would be going after already depleted stocks of wild salmon.
The solution ultimately lies with us, and we should be more concerned by factors identified by the Cohen Commission and others who suggest that ocean warming, habitat damage to streams and rivers, and overfishing are the real threats. So let's begin the conversation where it starts.
You can review the full exchange between Mr. Ross and MLA Routley from the Legislature Video below:
The transcript of the presentation to the Legislature can be reviewed here.
For more items related to the Skeena MLA's work at the Legislature see our archive page here.
Further background on the North Coast fishery can be reviewed from our Fishery page.