Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas delivered some hard-hitting opinions on the salmon farming industry during council’s Feb. 23 meeting.
Dugas used the verbal reports part of the agenda to state that he had the opportunity, thanks to the BC Salmon Farmers Association, to have a discussion with federal Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole about “what’s happening with the fish farm industry on the west coast.”
According to Dugas, O’Toole seemed to be quite knowledgeable about the issues that are currently going on in the Discovery Islands, where Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan recently announced the closure of 19 fish farms in the area by 2022.
Jordan said the Discovery Islands weren’t the right fit for aquaculture pens.
Dugas added he feels the time period for the closures is way too short, pointing out it’s “not really much of a transition period when you don’t have time to transtion,” and that he’s pleased O’Toole is looking at the issue from the federal level in Ottawa and will be discussing it with the Prime Minister and B.C. Premier John Horgan “to see how we can move forward to do a better job in the future.”
After talking politics, Dugas noted he and the other mayors who signed a letter of support for the industry were recently involved in a Campbell River council meeting to talk about what’s been happening to the fish farm industry ever since the jarring announcement.
“I would just like to bring a little bit of it to your attention, Cermaq for example, the closing of the Discovery Islands, 20 per cent of their production will be gone, their average salaries are $65,000 dollars a year with 20 per cent benefits,” Dugas stated, before noting another company, Poseidon Ocean Systems, who develop all the cages around the fish farms, “employ 24 people and 14 of those people are engineers, and they work on the coast with all the farms to develop those cages to contain the fish and make it safe for the fish and for the surroundings. This is going to have a tremendous impact on their company, if the fish farms are nonexistent.”
He then talked about Mowi. The fish farm company has previously stated it will lose roughly 30 per cent of its business thanks to the closures and has already started to cull its fish. “There’s no room for the fish to go, they’ve already had to euthanize 925,000 fish,” complained Dugas. “925,000 fish they had to destroy, because they had nowhere to put them, which would represent 14 million meals when they get to full size.”
Mowi has also had to start handing out layoff notices to employees, which Dugas said is “a pretty sad thing to think about.”
Dugas then clarified that the group of mayors who signed the letter never wanted the government to reconsider the Discovery Islands’ decision. “Everything is built on time for proper transition… Unfortunately when you’ve only got 18 months it’s going to affect a number of employees in a particular area… it’s not enough time to get them retrained to go into other areas of work, because there isn’t any [work] at this particular time.”
The closures will certainly have an effect on Port Hardy, says Dugas. “It’s going to affect the boats that bring the fish to us, there’s going to be less work for them, less work for the processing plant, less fish for Hardy Buoys… it affects all of us.”
As for Minister Jordan’s involvement, Dugas noted that as of Feb. 23, there has been many a letter sent to Minister Jordan, and “at this particular time she has never to this date replied to any of those letters that have been sent out, either from local government, provincial government, or local industry.”
He then thanked Coun. Fred Robertson “for the work he’s been doing on our behalf, as he’s been talking to our local MLA Michele Babchuk who has been working tirelessly on her end to support what’s happening in our particular area.”
According to Dugas, Babchuk has been busy talking to the fish farm industry about economic recovery and opportunities for economic growth. “I can’t thank her enough for that, she’s been doing a great job for us.”
Coun. Janet Dorward spoke up at that point, stating she wanted say “thank you so much for continuing to fight for our very important aquaculture industry, it’s sustainable, it’s renewable… I know not everybody agrees and it’s sometimes hard to be in the face of that, but I really appreciate the work you are doing.”
“We’re all in this together, and I know that I have your support, and that’s all I really need to move forward,” added Dugas.