Mr. Speaker, my riding of Kootenay—Columbia is located in the Rocky Mountains. For 10 years I was manager of visitor services with provincial parks for the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island and I know how important a healthy wild salmon population is to the economy, the environment, and, indeed the way of life that people enjoy on the coast.
I also spent a bit of time as a teacher and I know that, apparently, people need to hear things at least three times before they really start to remember and understand them, so some of the facts that members will hear today they will have heard once or twice, but for probably a third time as well.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to support my NDP colleague from Port Moody—Coquitlam and his private member's bill, Bill C-228. I want to thank the member for his many years of work as a champion for west coast wild salmon, the oceans, and coastal communities. I was proud to run under the 2015 federal NDP platform that included a commitment to transitioning salmon farms to closed containment and it is my sincere hope that the members of the House will take action to support what is clearly science-based policy and protect this important resource.
Wild salmon play a vital ecological, cultural, and economic role on Canada's west coast. They feed species at risk, such as orca whales, eagles, bears, and other large mammals, and carry essential nutrients deep into coastal forests during their spawning cycles up rivers and creeks. Wild salmon is an important food source for coastal communities and an integral part of west coast first nations' economy, diet, and culture.
West coast wild salmon is a key economic driver in the region, supporting a $102-million commercial fishery, a $326-million recreational fishery, and over 9,000 family-supporting jobs in coastal and first nations communities. Wild salmon is also an important contributor to the $783-million west coast wilderness tourism industry, which employs 26,000 people full time and roughly 40,000 people in total.
Coastal communities, cultural traditions, and complex ecosystems depend on a healthy west coast wild salmon population. Unfortunately, west coast wild salmon are under threat from sea lice, pollutants, and diseases coming from open net-cage fish farms. In British Columbia, the Fraser River salmon run historically topped over 100 million fish. Now, a run of 20 million to 30 million is considered exceptional. In 2009, only 1.4 million Fraser River sockeye returned to spawn. The NDP was a consistent supporter of the resulting judicial inquiry and of the important recommendations that came out of the Cohen commission.
It is important to note, though, that the devastating downward trend in our wild salmon population has continued, with indicators showing this year's salmon run to be just as low as the one that triggered the inquiry in 2009. Who is the major culprit? Open net fish farms have spread diseases and parasites to wild salmon populations; damaged ecosystems with feces and waste feed; and can kill whales, two in the last three weeks tangled in nets, and other marine mammals. Escaped farm salmon continue to end up in the wild population, further contributing to these problems.
Earlier this year, Dr. Kristi Miller of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed the presence of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation, or HSMI for short, in salmon samples collected from a B.C. fish farm located on the Johnstone Strait. The presence of this deadly salmon disease further raises the alarm that action must be taken.
Open net farms are located on essential wild salmon migration routes, including the Discovery Islands. If HSMI disease were to spread to wild salmon, already under threat from other diseases, including sea lice, the impact on the salmon population could be catastrophic. The Cohen commission recommended that the federal government apply the precautionary principle in relation to protecting wild salmon. The implementation of this principle means that when science demonstrates the existence of more than a minimal risk to our wild salmon population, the government is required to take action to protect it.
The Liberal government has claimed to be committed to the precautionary principle and protecting the wild salmon economy, but rather than take action to encourage closed containment fish farms, even in light of the overwhelming evidence pointing to the harms that they cause, the federal government has extended the duration of open net salmon farm licences from one year to six years.
The government also continues to allow diseased salmon to be transferred into farms on the west coast. At the same time, the Liberals have further allowed the destruction of wild salmon habitat by approving Site C hydro dam and Pacific NorthWest liquid natural gas developments.
Norway, Chile, and Scotland have all seen the negative impacts of open net farms on their wild salmon fisheries, leading to declining wild populations and collapses. We are now seeing the same potential problems in British Columbia. We need to learn from these examples and take action now to protect Canadian wild salmon.
Bill C-228 is part of the answer. This bill strengthens the Fisheries Act by requiring west coast fish farms to transition from open net pens to safe closed containment systems within five years. It also requires the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to develop, table, and implement a plan to facilitate the transition of the west coast salmon farming industry to closed containment—and this does need to be a transition—within 18 months of the bill receiving royal assent.
This is sound, science-based policy that has received widespread support from stakeholders. Professor Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University has said, “the scientific evidence that has emerged over the past several years clearly shows that aquaculture-related parasites and viruses pose far more than minimal risk to Fraser sockeye, and to other wild Pacific salmon more generally.” He goes on to say, “The only way that I can see to safeguard this globally significant natural treasure from this very real threat is to require a rapid transition to closed-containment, land based facilities.”
Closed containment farming systems place a barrier between wild and farmed salmon, effectively eliminating some of the most negative impacts of open net salmon farming, and significantly reducing others. A transition to closed containment technology has many benefits for the wild salmon economy, including removing the threat of disease and parasites, reducing the need for antibiotics and chemical treatments in fish farming, allowing farmed salmon to grow to market weight faster, and commanding a premium price for an environmentally sustainable product, providing greater operational control to minimize investment risk and losses, and ultimately protecting our marine ecosystems.
These systems are already finding success in salmon production across Canada, led by Kuterra in B.C., and Sustainable Blue in Nova Scotia. There are also more than 70 licensed closed containment fin fish farms in British Columbia growing salmon, tilapia, crayfish, and trout.
As Aaron Hill of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society notes, “Closed containment aquaculture protects wild salmon from harmful viruses and parasites that can be spread by salmon farms. We shouldn't have to trade off the health of our wild salmon for aquaculture jobs, and if Bill C-228 passes, we won't have to. Moving to closed containment salmon farming is a no-brainer.”
I could not agree more. We can protect our environment and our jobs with this safe, reliable, proven technology. Bill C-228 provides us with a historic opportunity to protect wild salmon and the wild salmon economy. As our nation's federal representatives, we in this House have a responsibility to pursue a long-term vision for Canada's natural heritage.
As Andrew Wright of The Willow Grove Foundation has said, “Closed containment holds the promise of creating a diversified enduring rural economy with no environmental impacts. It allows wild and farmed salmon economies and ecosystems to thrive.”
Canada can become a world leader in closed-containment technology, providing jobs for first nations and our rural and coastal communities, while also taking a science-based approach to protecting our environment. I strongly urge all members of this House to support Bill C-228, and to protect the national treasure that is wild salmon for generations to come.