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Boycott sparks Chilliwack debate about fish farm impacts

Eddie Gardner holds up a package of farmed salmon during the Chilliwack chapter
Eddie Gardner holds up a package of farmed salmon during the Chilliwack chapter's involvement in the national boycott of feedlot salmon protest outside the Real Canadian Superstore on Wednesday. The group is trying to get open net feedlot salmon (farmed salmon) off grocery store shelves. About 25 protesters were outside the store handing out information. For more info on the boycott and to sign a petition, go to www.salmonfeedlotboycott.com.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

A national campaign to boycott open-net fish farm products all comes down to consumer choice, said a local organizer.

"This is a people’s movement. People are consumers. With expanded awareness people can make healthy, ethical choices, one of which would be to boycott feedlot salmon," said Skwah elder Eddie Gardner.

A protest was held at the Real Canadian Superstore parking lot in Chilliwack to launch the boycott locally last Wednesday.

“Salmon are sacred to us Stó:lõ,” said Robert Jimmie. “First Nations people need to be consulted on any further decisions that are taken respecting any expansion or renewals of fish farm licences."

Some Chilliwack activists are convinced there's a link between industrial fish farming in the ocean and the decline in Fraser River salmon stocks.

“The devastating track record of open net feedlots on the West Coast and East Coast over 20 some years is getting worse, not better,” said Chris Gadsden, who was part of the Paddle for the Wild Salmon in 2010. That effort was instrumental Bruce Cohen asking for the release of the fish disease records for the previous decade.

However an aquaculture PR rep is now saying some of the information circulated during the protest in Chilliwack last week was based on "fear not facts."

"Debate and discussion about the food we eat and how it's grown should be encouraged, and in a farming community like Chilliwack, where I grew up, I would hope the voice of the farmers would be considered with respect," said Grant Warkentin, spokesman for Mainstream Canada. "Unfortunately, the information presented to the public by the protestors is short on facts and full of fear. We are open and transparent about how we produce healthy, safe farmed salmon, grown in B.C. by B.C. farmers."

He says their industry is more transparent than most other types of farming.

"For example, specific information about the health of our fish has been available to the public since 2003. And today, DFO publishes detailed monthly information about our farms for anyone to see. Our farming practices are based on the best available science, and our evolution over the past 30 years shows just how far we've come.

The issue of whether or not salmon farms harm migrating salmon stocks has been explored since the 1990s, he said.

"The only definitive answer to this question is 'maybe, maybe not.'"

Sockeye populations have been declining according to the numbers from B.C. to California at around the same time and rate.

"In fact, this downward trend has been underway for 160 years. Salmon farming in B.C. didn't really become significant in B.C. until the mid 1980s, and many of these wild salmon populations never come near a salmon farm, so clearly there are other forces at work.

"As Justice Cohen pointed out in his recent report, there is no evidence that there is any link between salmon farms and sockeye returns. He was cautious, however, and called for more research to prove or disprove any connection and this is something salmon farmers support. And salmon farmers have always worked to minimize their impacts and keep their farms from posing any risk to wild salmon. Many of us are sport fishers and First Nations and do not want to see anything bad happen to wild salmon."

He invites "anyone who has concerns about salmon farming" to come take a farm tour for themselves.

"The problem with the public perception of salmon farming is that few people have actually seen it for themselves.

"In Chilliwack, people are comfortable with the sights, sounds and smells of dairy barns and chicken farms and blueberry fields, and have a general idea of how they work because they can see them and talk to the farmers.

"Salmon farms are usually in remote locations and it's hard for people to get familiar with something they never see. But the farms and farmers are not much different from farms and farmers in the Fraser Valley.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association offers tours every year and if people can't do that, they also have videos and pictures of our farms online for people to see for themselves. And we're always willing to answer questions.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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