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Open-net fish farms had to go but transition plan overdue: MP

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and North Island MLA Michele Babchuk release statements on federal plan

Moving away from open-net fish farms is necessary to protect threatened Pacific salmon species, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney says.

"Canadian fisheries and aquaculture are a valuable, renewable natural resource, and a source of healthy and sustainable food for millions," Blaney said. "Preserving our ocean ecosystems and their capacity to sustain our current and future communities is essential. At the same time, the cost of living has seen rapid increases and Canadian families are struggling to pay for groceries and rent."

Blaney made the comments in response to a request from the Campbell River Mirror for her position on the federal Liberal government's announced ban earlier this week on open-net fish farms after a five year transition period ending in 2029.

"Unfortunately, current open-net fish farms are not environmentally sustainable," Blaney said. "Wild Pacific salmon are a keystone of our coastal ecosystems and are vitally important to coastal communities, First Nations, and commercial fishers. Now more than ever, we need to do all we can to protect this vital species. Years of scientific evidence and countless studies, including the Cohen Report, have shown that open-net fish farms are a key factor in the decline of wild Pacific salmon in British Columbia alongside climate change, habitat destruction, and overfishing. We must transition away from open net fish farms if we hope to protect our threatened Pacific salmon species."

New Democrats are committed to addressing ecological harms, she said, and will continue to advocate for the removal of open net fish farms from British Columbia’s waters with a clear and timely real jobs plan for all those impacted. This plan for communities should have been in place long ago.

"It is critical that workers and their communities are not left behind – I have been advocating consistently for a comprehensive plan that ensures that coastal communities do not bear the brunt of these necessary regulatory decisions," Blaney said. "New Democrats have always stood up for workers, and we will continue to do so."

Blaney tied the issue of environmental protection to the cost-of-living crisis.

"We are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis," she said. "Grocery prices have been getting higher and higher, and neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives will say a word about the sky-high profits of those responsible, like the grocery store billionaires."

But we can't solve the cost-of-living crisis by continuing on a path that will further damage the marine ecosystems and renewable resources that communities rely on, she said. But government can help by creating secure job transition plans for fish farm workers, reining in "grocery store gougers" everyone paying their fair share to ensure that communities are healthy and supported. 

Blaney's provincial NDP counterpart, North Island MLA Michele Babchuk, wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing "disappointment" with the plan as well focusing on its lack of support for workers and communities in the transition period.

"I want to share my disappointment about the terms of this announcement, especially that despite your initial commitment to work with our province and First Nations communities, this announcement does not deliver the clear plan and significant funding that is needed to support impacted workers and communities," Babchuk says in her letter. "BC salmon farmers are the largest employer on northern Vancouver Island, and this announcement will leave many families and my community vulnerable."

Babchuk says she is calling on the federal government to immediately take the following actions to protect jobs and livelihoods in coastal communities:

- Work directly with impacted communities and workers on next steps.

- Make sure First Nations have a direct role in determining what the transition looks like in their territories.

- Provide the significant funding needed to shift to closed containment fish farms to sustain a strong industry. Support local communities to create good jobs by funding economic opportunities and infrastructure.

Alistair Taylor

About the Author: Alistair Taylor

I have been editor of the Campbell River Mirror since 1989. Our team takes great pride in serving our community.
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