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Guest Column, January 2004

Lynn Hunter, the BC coordinator of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, lives in Victoria, British Columbia. After working in African war zones with OXFAM Canada in the 1980’s she was elected to Canada’s Parliament ‘ a post she held from 1988 to 1993. Since then she has been working in various capacities to address the fisheries crisis on Canada’s west coast.

Consumer Power Against a Global Industry

Lynn Hunter, BC Co-ordinator of the Coastal Alliane for Aquaculture Reform, on the need for consumer action against the salmon farm industry.

I have been working on the fish farming issue for over 15 years since I was a Member of Canada’s Parliament and member of the Parliamentary Environment Committee. My story is about government’s failure to act in the public interest when dealing with the global fish farm industry.

In September 1990, the Canadian Parliamentary Environment Committee hosted the Norwegian Parliamentary Environment Committee. Part of our discussion focused on the problems of fish farms. Norway had experienced an outbreak of a parasite from aquaculture operations that had infected 70% of its rivers. The only way to eradicate this parasite was to sterilize whole river systems. During the discussion, Norwegian parliamentarians frankly admitted the link between aquaculture and the sterilizing of Norwegian rivers. This crisis caused the Norwegian government to bring in strict environmental laws and regulations.

Member of Parliament Ms.Harkestad said. ‘We are very strict about the quality and the environment questions. Therefore, some of the fish farmers went to Canada. They said we want bigger fish farms; we can do as we like. That is a very hot topic, I think.’

It is still a very hot topic. Thirteen years later, the industry, started in Norway, is a global industry. I now work for the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR), a British Columbia based group of concerned First Nation communities, science based environmental organizations and fishermen. Our mission is to protect wild salmon, coastal ecosystems, coastal communities and human health from destructive fish farming practices.

Currently, five corporations control over 80% of the fish farms on the B.C. coast ‘ three companies from Norway, one company from the Netherlands and one from Canada. The same corporations that control the industry in Canada also operate in Scotland, Norway, Chile and the United States.

There has never been a debate in the House of Commons or to my knowledge, in any provincial legislature, on the re-allocation of resources to support the fishfarming industry yet this re-allocation is well underway. This support currently amounts to many hundreds of millions of tax dollars. Canadian governments are expediting the development and expansion of an industry with profound negative environmental and social consequences for our country. They are doing so in the absence of any public process and with a determined lack of transparency.

Net cage fish farming of carnivorous fish like salmon is unsustainable -- environmentally, economically and socio-politically. The industry’s promise to feed a hungry world is a false promise which has devastating consequences for our oceans, for our economic self-sufficiency and our dream of reducing the disparity between the rich and poor. When big business offers solutions to small coastal communities crippled by the collapse of wild fish stocks you can bet they are not motivated by altruism.

In fact, salmon farming has contributed to the collapse of wild fish stocks. Net cage fish farming brings with it habitat destruction, pollution, the introduction of disease and parasites and the depletion of global fish stocks.

The groups within the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) have tried for many years to bring that message to our governments and to the fishfarming industry. Our concerns have been ignored and the industry is now poised to expand up the entire British Columbia coast.

For that reason, in October 2002, CAAR launched a new approach -- a campaign to let consumers know about the effects of fish farming. We have provided information to restaurants and retail outlets, asking them not to buy farmed salmon. The majority (over 80%) of B.C’s farmed salmon is exported to markets in the United States. We are focusing many of our efforts on the U.S. marketplace as a means of leveraging change within the fish farm industry and their government supporters.

On November 5th we organized an international day of action, demonstrating peacefully outside retail outlets from the north coast of British Columbia to California.

Fish farming is about more than fish. It is about the transfer of public resources to private corporations that create a net loss for our environment, our economy and for social justice. We believe that decisions by consumers can change this. For more information please visit our website at www.farmedanddangerous.org

Lynn Hunter, BC Coordinator, Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform.