Mr. Speaker, we have today in this Parliament a historic opportunity to act on the key recommendations of the Cohen Commission to protect wild salmon and the wild salmon economy and to innovate and take action on coastal job creation.
The importance of wild Pacific salmon cannot be overstated. They are the foundation of indigenous culture in British Columbia. They are the foundation of our coastal ecology, and they established British Columbia's settlement pattern.
Salmon support a $102-million west coast commercial fishery employing 1,400 people. They support a $326-million west coast recreational fishery employing 8,400 people. They fuel a $783-million west coast wilderness tourism industry employing 26,000 full time, and roughly 40,000 in total. Yet wild salmon are at risk globally. Due to climate change and the increased prevalence of salmon farms along migratory routes, salmon populations on the west coast are at serious risk.
Worldwide, since 1975, oceans have absorbed 90% of the excess heat from global climate change. Worldwide, fisheries, as a result, could lose $10 billion of their annual revenue because of climate change.
Since salmon farms proliferated on our coast in the nineties, Fraser sockeye populations have crashed. In 2009, the salmon run on the Fraser River saw only 1.4 million fish, a drastic low in spawning returns from typical levels, which are usually 20 million to 30 million. Sockeye salmon at our latitude are threatened with extinction by 2050, and potentially all species of salmon are threatened with extinction by 2100, if we do not act. This would affect everything, moving up the food chain, including resident killer whales.
Writes Diana Hardacker from the riding I represent, “I teach students at the Nanaimo River Fish Hatchery about the important irreplaceable role that Pacific Salmon play in the health of our ecosystem, and our health. Any threat to that, namely disease from Atlantic salmon, is unacceptable.”
I agree. Open-net fish farms are a further threat to Pacific wild salmon. They are located in key migratory areas for wild salmon, and there is evidence that they are harming wild salmon. Feces and waste feed damage the ecosystem near fish farms. They promote the spread of disease and allow sea lice to flourish.
Imagine being a wee salmon minnow running the gauntlet of net-pen fish farms on the migratory route. They emerge bristling with sea lice. Salmon have enough to contend with between ocean, river, lake, and four years out in the ocean without this impossible burden of sea lice. If and when viruses spread to wild salmon, which are already under threat from sea lice, the results could be even more catastrophic.
I salute the work of Alexandra Morton. She is a heroine on our coast for standing up for wild salmon and ringing the alarm on science and the threat from salmon farms.
We need to transition to closed containment. West coast salmon, wild salmon, are under threat from sea lice, pollutants, and diseases coming from open-net fish farms. We have see this happen already. Norway, Chile, Scotland, and now B.C. have all had problems with their wild salmon fishery as a result of the contamination from open-pen fish farms. We cannot afford the declining wild salmon population, and we cannot afford the aquaculture collapse.
I heard about this from Julie Smith, who wrote to me, “As someone who was a commercial fisher for over 25 years and now has lost my job because of the decline of fish returns, this is something I feel very strongly about. Please support this, it is important.”
I urge the government to do the right thing and transition this industry to safe closed containment technology.
New Democrats called for a judicial inquiry into the sockeye collapse of the Fraser salmon run, and then we championed the implementation of the recommendations resulting from the Cohen Commission. The new Liberal government has promised full implementation of Cohen's recommendations, yet 18 of its 20 deadlines have passed already without any action.
Cohen said that the Government of Canada should remove from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.
Never was the need more clear to remove that conflict of interest than when we heard the DFO parliamentary secretary in debate last month proclaim the spotless record of the aquaculture industry. It is just not fair.
We heard strong words from Cohen on the precautionary principle and the possible link between open-net salmon farming and the decline in wild salmon.
We are arguing in the bill today that closed containment salmon farms are the solution for the west coast. They would create jobs while protecting wild salmon. We already have 70 licensed closed containment fin farms in British Columbia already, so the technology is proven. They would keep the farm environment on the farm, and the wild environment wild. They would protect wild salmon from parasites like sea lice. On-land fish farms can better control the water temperature and water quality, maximizing the efficiency of growth, which is good for the salmon farming business.
It is time to innovate. The rate of change in this industry is tremendous and Norway and Denmark are already generating very good results. This is proven technology and we are already making great strides across Canada in closed containment Atlantic salmon production with Sustainable Blue in Nova Scotia and Kuterra leading the way in B.C.
With many of my colleagues from three different parties in the House, we had the chance to visit Kuterra. It has been in operation since 2013 and is fully owned by the 'Namgis First Nation on northern Vancouver Island. It is designed to produce 450 tonnes per year of antibiotic and hormone-free, non-GMO Atlantic salmon. All the water is recycled and cleaned every hour and 99% of that water is reused. The solid waste, which in traditional fish farms is dumped into the ocean, is filtered, captured, and composted in Kuterra's on-land farm. The ammonia in the water is converted to nitrate and can be used for aquaponics.
I cannot say enough how inspiring it was to go to this facility to see local people innovating, working together, creating local jobs, using local feed, and generating those on-the-ground results that can really inspire further success.
We have heard again and again from the proponents at Kuterra what a tremendous advantage British Columbia has. We already have fish farms, technicians, processing plants, everything to give us an advantage now over the United States. Yet the Danish company Langsand Laks is starting a 30,000 tonne on-land closed containment Atlantic salmon farm in Florida. Canada could get ahead of this sustainable, hi-tech wave by innovating now to protect wild salmon.
My colleague, the member of Parliament for Port Moody—Coquitlam, has such a strong record of standing up for wild salmon. He has flown across Georgia Strait, across the Salish Sea, and down the Fraser River. He has been a fantastic proponent and advocate, along with NGOs like the Georgia Strait Alliance. His bill before us today would strengthen the Fisheries Act by requiring west coast salmon farms to move from open-net harmful pens to safe closed containment systems within five years.
It would require the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to plan the transition of the salmon farming industry on the west coast to closed containment in a way that moves those jobs that support the local economy. It is a win-win for the environment and local employment.
While 150 first nation bands oppose open-net salmon farms, there is tremendous support for this on-land salmon farm bill. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the First Nations Fisheries Alliance, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the B.C. Wildlife Federation, and hundreds of others are in support. Moreover, almost 1,200 of my constituents have written to me to say that they want to see Parliament support the bill.
I will end with a plea to Parliament to recognize the sacred duty we have, the responsibility we have, to make things right for both the wild economy and local jobs. We can support a just transition to on-land closed containment salmon farms in B.C., proving that Canada can innovate, create jobs, protect wild salmon, and protect B.C.'s coastal economy.