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Kervin’s Corner: Alexandra Morton challenges marine industry to public debate – let’s give her one

‘Funny enough, de facto leaders of the protest movement seem to rely on Indigenous backing’

In a recent Facebook post released on February 22, Alexandra Morton challenged the fish farm industry to a public debate in a fiery video condemning BC MLAs and industry scientists alike. She has called on researchers, scientists or anyone in academia educated in marine biology for that matter to discuss the issue.

Funny enough, de facto leaders of the protest movement seem to rely on Indigenous backing – a form of environmental colonialism. Meaning that, these same leaders need First Nations support to lend some legitimacy to anti-fish farm campaigns. In my opinion, they use First Nations culture, our hereditary chiefs, as tokens.

Once we look closer we find that a lot of First Nations communities need fish farms to survive – a great deal of band administrations, Chiefs and Councillors, have royalty agreements with fish farm companies. In fact, 40 First Nations communities across Canada are involved in the industry; 9 out of 10 provinces have a First Nations community who’s invested in fish farming. So just as our local First Nations are getting on their feet, so to say, we’re stifled by a movement of which would destroy any chance at economic self-sufficiency.

While I am no scientist myself – I admit, I just have a bachelor of arts degree from Simon Fraser University – I’d like to think that public debate is open to any informed person. However, I won’t go into debating scientific studies because that isn’t my expertise. (Interestingly enough, Morton is no scientist either, only holding a bachelor of science, according to her online profiles. To be fair, she has an honorary PhD from Simon Fraser University, but it’s honoris causa or an honorary degree, certainly not an earned doctorate.)

Nonetheless, the fish farm industry is a public policy issue as much as it is an environmental issue. That said, the environmental impacts from fish farms could be a talking point to argue on, but that’s already covered ad nauseum. What it comes down to is possibly this – is the industry employing enough people, putting food on the table for hard-working employees and their families, to justify fish farms to continue running?

Here’s a more in-depth breakdown than my previous articles on fish farms.

Fish farms provide roughly 10,000 jobs across the country. Most of these jobs are based in British Columbia. Aquaculture also has a direct, indirect and induced employment of around 11, 414 people – jobs created in industries connected to aquaculture, say, fish processing plants or transportation. The aquaculture industry, not just fish farms, also provides roughly 14,000 jobs. A majority of these jobs are located in small, rural communities – like Port Hardy. To get even more specific, the Campbell River and Comox regions employ around 3,968 people in the industry.

The value of aquaculture production in Canada is nearing one billion dollars. In BC alone, aquaculture economic impacts result in a staggering half a billion dollars. In fact, Canada is the fourth largest exporter of farmed salmon and shellfish across the world. In 2013, BC accounted for almost half, 49 percent, of Canada’s aquaculture production volume. BC’s aquaculture also accounts for nearly two hundred million dollars with direct impact on gross domestic product.

It’s certainly fair to say that Port Hardy’s economy would stagnate, if not plummet, if it weren’t for aquaculture. So before we go into the environmental impacts of fish farms, it’s only fair to dig into the economic impacts it would have if we did decide to shut it down. Clearly, it would mean a tremendous loss of jobs on the North Island.

To top it off, a poll released by CHEK News in August 2017 asked Canadians to vote on the question of “should sea based salmon farming be banned?” The results (as of March 2018) are clear, as opposed to what protestors and the anti-fish farm movement would like you to believe: 57 percent of Canadians are in favor of fish farms as an industry (9,062 votes) while the other 43 percent (6,784) were against it.

It’s also clear that shutting down fish farms would not only be unfair to many BC workers – it’s unfair to the rest of Canada. Our national aquaculture exports would freefall. Afterall, our province does account for half of the country’s production, mind you. So it’s not only going to hurt a great deal of people in our province, but more importantly it would economically ruin the North Island region. It’d also put a huge risk to our country’s economy.

If we are going to talk about fish farms we can’t limit ourselves to only talking about environmental impacts or scientific studies – it’s so much more than that. It’s an issue of which concerns a huge number of people in our communities, because it truly is the backbone of our economy. It’s one of our main sources of jobs once we take into account for peripheral employment in the industry.

So let’s not go into a debate framed strictly around talking points – environmental impacts this or scientific studies that. Instead, let’s be more open minded and also debate about the livelihood it provides to our North Island communities. Because once we discuss that it’s clear there is no debate – it’s what keeps our communities alive. Regardless of whether you think I missed the real issue, we simply can’t just ignore or conveniently exclude aquaculture employment numbers and its immense impact on our regional economy.

I certainly don’t support fish farming malpractice in locations where there is clear evidence. However, to shut down all fish farms because of poor stewardship of a few aquaculture companies is simply unfair to our North Island residents. In other words, I just want to put fish farming employment numbers out there on the table so that we all can see.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

* The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different view, we encourage you to write to us or contribute to the discussion. But please remember to keep it clean!