Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam for bringing this important bill to this place. I am very happy to speak to it and express my strong support for it.
As others have mentioned, the bill proposes to move open-net salmon aquaculture pens to safe, closed containment systems over a five-year period. This will have significant beneficial impacts on the survival of west coast salmon and Pacific ecosystems in general.
The five species of Pacific salmon are a keystone of aquatic ecosystems in British Columbia. Salmon mature in the open Pacific then migrate hundreds of kilometres inland to spawn.
I want to mention, even though it has already been mentioned today, that the sponsor of this bill has swum the length of the Fraser River twice, 1,400 kilometres each time. He knows what the salmon have to go through. Admittedly, he has only done it downstream, so he has not fought the currents all the way. However, it is still an impressive feat and a real testament to his efforts to save wild salmon.
As the salmon fight those currents, they are bringing rich nutrients from the ocean into the interior rivers, lakes, and forests. One simply has to witness the spectacle of wildlife around a salmon spawning ground to understand the significance of this. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of bald eagles gather at the spawning sites to feast on the spent spawners, moving from river to river as the different spawning events unfold throughout the summer, fall, and winter.
These eagles comes from all over western North America, from Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Alberta, and Northwest Territories. The salmon runs are an essential part of their winter survival, as well as the survival of a myriad of other species, including bear, waterfowl, and others that rely on salmon, including the orcas that feed on them as they come back out of the ocean through the narrows of Johnstone Strait and other places on the coast.
The young salmon swim downstream to the Pacific, usually spending time in the rich estuaries of the river mouths, which act as nurseries. Estuaries in B.C. have been prime locations for industrial activity: port facilities on the tidal flats of the Fraser estuary, logsorts up and down the coast, and recently a new proposal for an LNG port on one of the most important ellgrass beds at the mouth of the Skeena.
First nations have also relied on salmon for millennia. For many indigenous communities across British Columbia and Yukon, salmon are the centrepiece of their food supply throughout the year, and have always been central to their culture. They were an abundant, predictable, and easily preserved resource.
In my riding, first nations have travelled each year to significant concentration sites, such as Okanagan Falls and south of the border at Kettle Falls. In the Okanagan Nation, or Syilx culture, salmon, or Ntytikxw , is one of the four food chiefs, along with Skimxist, bear; Speetlum, bitterroot; and Seeya, Saskatoon berry.
However, salmon populations have suffered greatly over the past century. Heavy fishing in the early 1900s significantly reduced many stocks. Clear-cut logging along streams degraded spawning habitat. Hydroelectric dams have wiped out 20 salmon stocks in British Columbia, most of them on the Columbia River. Climate change threatens to diminish stocks further, as spring freshets come earlier and weaker, and summer droughts become longer, drier, and hotter. Salmon die in warm, oxygen-poor waters.
When I was young, there were few salmon that returned each year to the Okanagan River to spawn. Although the Okanagan was one of the last two viable sockeye runs in the Columbia River system, only about 5,000 fish came back each fall. Chinook salmon were even more endangered. One population estimate of the Okanagan spawning population from about a decade ago was only seven individuals.
Some years ago, serious efforts began to restore the sockeye populations of the Okanagan. In the last decade, these efforts have been spearheaded by the Okanagan Nation Alliance. Through its efforts to rebuild the spawning channels of the Okanagan River, sockeye now number in the hundreds of thousands in good years.
Last year, a half million sockeye entered the Columbia destined for the Okanagan, all but 10,000 died in the warm-water pools below the 11 dams they had to deal with on their way upstream. This year was cooler and wetter, and the return was good.
It is clear that salmon populations on the Pacific coast of Canada face a multitude of challenges, and any addition to these cumulative stressors could tip populations over the edge, sending them into decline and local extinction.
Bill C-228 would remove one of those challenges, a significant one. We know that open-net salmon farms have impacts on wild salmon populations, through disease, parasites, pollution, and escapement. Remember, these are Atlantic salmon in these pens and when they escape and try to spawn in the local rivers, it is a serious problem for wild salmon populations. We know that the aquatic ecosystems of British Columbia and much of the terrestrial ecosystems around spawning rivers are being degraded because of this situation. We know there is a problem, and we know the answer. We know what we have to do. We simply have to have the political will to fix the problem.
In the past, when we have faced similar situations, we have been successful. In the 1960s and 1970s, we discovered that DDT was causing dramatic declines in the populations of birds of prey around the world. Eagles and falcons were disappearing. We knew the cause. It was DDT, so we banned that pesticide, even though it was costly in the short term for the agricultural industry. I know that impact. I grew up on a small apple orchard and saw what my father had to do in buying new equipment to deal with the new pesticides that replaced DDT. However, we fixed the problem, and have seen eagle and falcon populations rebound in spectacular fashion over the past 40 years. The agriculture industry has not only survived but has flourished.
We can do the same for wild salmon. The bill calls for a shift from open-net salmon farms to closed containment systems. That is the right thing to do. We can still have a successful salmon farming industry on the Pacific coast, one that is based on sound environmental principles, and one that could command higher prices for its product because of those principles. Canada can become a world leader in closed containment systems as the world makes this shift.
I urge every member of the House to support Bill C-228 and save our wild salmon.