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International News, Decmber 2004

Canadians call for moratorium

The North Coast of British Columbia is bracing itself for the full force of a salmon farming industry intent on heading northwards towards Alaska. But the industry has a fight on their hands. “The majority of Canada’s North Coast community leaders want to quell the rise of salmon farming in their region,” reported Elizabeth Bluemink in The Juneau Empire (23rd November).

On Friday 19th November, the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District Board voted to ask federal Canadian and British Columbia regulators to halt new salmon farms in their 7,696-square mile district bordering Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Skeena-Queen Charlotte District includes the Queen Charlotte Islands and a stretch of mainland north and south of Prince Rupert. Major rivers include the Skeena and the Nass.

Environmentalists claim the proposed farms are situated along eight significant wild salmon migration routes, including the southern migration route to British Columbia's second largest salmon river, the Skeena.

“Our whole lives are built around wild Pacific salmon,” said Des Nobles of the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation who is building a coalition of opposition to salmon farms on the North Coast. The Canadian government has already approved one farm this year in Anger Anchorage, near Prince Rupert - a joint venture of Pan Fish Ltd. and the Kitkatla First Nation - and two other projects remain under review. Dozens more projects are in the pipeline.

Dale Kelley, of the Alaska Trollers Association, said she is worried that the North Coast could pose more problems for aquaculture than in southern British Columbia, where farms are generally in more protected waters. Atlantic salmon from those protected areas have already escaped and spawned in Alaska streams, she said. “It's pretty dramatic ocean up there in the North Coast,” Kelley said. Escaped farmed fish “is the crux of the issue for Alaska fishermen,” she said. “The impact on our resource in the long term is unknown, but potentially devastating”.

Australian tuna farm in stormy waters

Hundreds of local fishermen, surfers, beach users, tourist operators and community leaders have joined forces in Esperance, Western Australia, to oppose tuna farming in the Recherche Archipelago. ABC News (19th November) reported that more than 400 people crammed into the local yacht club to air their concerns about the MG Kailis proposed tuna farm.

According to The Esperance Express (23rd November), “The issue of tuna feedlotting in Esperance waters has polarised the community and caused the most friction since the iron ore debate in 1994”. The proposal “has prompted a rising tide of protest” across Western Australia.

Conservation Council director Chris Tallentire told The Sunday Times (20th November): “The ranching of predatory fish within the natural environment has produced adverse outcomes all over the world and many of the ecological problems result from feeding huge quantities of pilchards to grow and fatten the tuna. Ninety per cent of this material does not become tuna product but appears somewhere in the environment as waste. This waste can trigger changes in the marine environment or impact on populations of fish, including sharks, fur seals, sealions, dolphins and seabirds.”

During the meeting, a motion was passed to raise the project's level of environmental assessment. MG Kailis spokesman Stephen Hood said: “It doesn't scare us in terms of having to do it because we don't think we've got anything to hide. I'm not quite sure how the EPA [Environmental Protection Authority] or the potential proponents would see it because at the end of the day it's a small proposal and if every small proposal has to go to the highest level of environmental assessment then I think you would never have any development in Australia.”

MG Kailis have a long way to go before convincing locals of their “small” plans. A local group formed to fight the proposal has started a postcard campaign to Environment Minister Judy Edwards. Wilderness Society marine campaign manager Patrick Cullen said the area should remain free from tuna ranching.

“The pristine southern waters of Western Australia do not yet have the icon status of tropical coral reefs such as Ningaloo, but they are beautiful, mega-diverse systems with many more regionally endemic marine species than tropical systems. The Recherche Archipelago is a pristine wilderness that deserves a similar place in the public consciousness and to be protected from activities such as an industrial fish farm”. Tourism and tuna farms as well as surfers and sharks simply do not mix well together.

Israel’s fish farm “law-breakers”

An impassioned Editorial – “Save the coral reef” – in The Jerusalem Post (22nd November) fired the latest salvo in Israel’s increasingly bitter battle against fish farms: “Israel's southern-most city, Eilat, boasts the world's northern-most coral reef in its offshore waters. That reef, a mecca for divers, is also potentially one of the most spectacular and biologically-diverse in the world.

Yet this unique underwater wonder-world is now facing extinction because of a lucrative fish-farm enterprise operated illegally in the bay by one private firm and five Arava kibbutzim. These farms breed millions of fish for the consumer market in huge submerged cages. The excrement the fish produce pollutes and threatens the delicate ecosystem. Last week, the first meaningful blow was struck against these invasive underwater farms.

The National Planning and Building Council set a 14-month deadline for removing the fish cages. This period is equivalent to one "fish crop cycle" and during it, no new fish may be introduced. The actual implementation of the NPBC ruling is still subject to cabinet approval, and we can only express the hope that there will be no waffling or backtracking of the sort we have seen on this issue”.

The Jerusalem Post continued: “Eilat Bay naturally contains no nitrates and its corals are nitrate-sensitive in the extreme. A government-sponsored report by international scientists published last September found that the cages account for nearly 90 percent of the nitrates in Eilat Bay. The report argues that "the fish cages are not the main polluter in the Red Sea, but they are a significant man-made factor and should be removed immediately."

Much more outspoken, Environment Ministry chief scientist Dr. Yeshayahu Bar-Or and Prof. Eli Zamski, chief scientist of the Nature and Parks Authority, contend in a separate study that "the floating fish cages are the major pollutant in the Gulf's northern sector" and that "their removal is a prerequisite for its rehabilitation." Some 70% of the reef has already been reportedly killed off, and if the two firms involved manage to drag things along awhile longer and win additional reprieves, not much will be left to save”.

And the Editorial concluded that: “The loss will not only be that of the tourist industry, but of all of us collectively. Fish can be commercially grown elsewhere, such as in large-scale artificial ponds used elsewhere in the country. The growers say that would be uneconomical. We don't doubt that they would rather avoid the considerable expense of relocating and that continuing their presence in Eilat would suit them best.

But they are there illegally and in defiance of a court order. The leasing agreement, which legalized their presence for part of their time in the area, expired two and a half years ago. They now have no business licenses, nor any other permit. This is adding insult to injury, as they entered the bay without permits either.

Given these circumstances we cannot conceive that the financial interests of law-breakers should take precedence over what is patently the public good. The coral reef belongs to all of us and now that interlopers have exploited and despoiled it, they cannot expect the lenience that might have been due to legitimate operators. Though basic environmental hygiene is at stake, so is the rule of law”.

Thai fish farming’s “serious threat to ecosystem”

According to The Bangkok Post (2nd November), the Marine and Coastal Resources Department has expressed deep concern over the possible damage that the marine ecology could suffer from the implementation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives' latest aquaculture project. Maitree Duangsawasdi, the department director-general, suggested the ministry conduct an environmental impact assessment study of the project. “To mitigate environmental impacts of aquaculture farming on the coastal ecosystem, the ministry must allow the marine department to participate in the project from the beginning,” he said.

Possible adverse impacts from the project's implementation could lead to the deterioration of seawater quality, destruction of coral reefs and seagrass beds, as well as obstructing coastal fisheries and marine tourism activities, the official said, adding it could also lead to encroachment of vulnerable mangrove forests. Mr Maitree voiced his concern after Mr Newin's announcement yesterday that the ministry would distribute the first batch of the ‘water deeds’ to about 1,000 aquaculture farmers next month.

Initiated by Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Newin Chidchob, the project aims to increase aquaculture farm areas from 130,000 to 284,000 rai within four years. Blood cockle, mussel, oysters, sea bass and grouper would be the five marine animals that are to be promoted under the project. Under the project, about 154,000 rai more aquaculture farms would be developed in Trat, Chumphon, Ranong, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Satun, Krabi and Pang-nga. The ministry claims that the project will increase Thailand's aquaculture produces to 1.04 million tonnes a year, worth more than 14 billion baht, from less than one million tonnes now.

Norway will never be #1 again

In an interview with Intrafish (26th November), Kontali’s Lars Liabo, admitted that: “Norway will not be the number one again.” The Norwegian company predicts that Chile will be the number one salmon farming country in the world by 2005 – and that Norway will never again overtake its Southern hemisphere rival. Norway has been the undisputed heavyweight in world salmon farming since the 1960s – when Chilean salmon farms were a mere glint in the eye of Japanese investors. Both countries currently produce ca. half a million tonnes of farmed salmon – way ahead of Scotland in third place (ca. 160,000 tonnes).

Liabo conceded that Chile not Norway had the ideal climate to farm salmon. “With regard to natural conditions, Chile is the number one,” he said. “The temperatures in Norway are very extreme, with almost freezing temperatures in winter and summer water temperatures can reach 18 to 20 degrees in some areas, and salmon do not like this very much and therefore stop eating or there are outbreaks of diseases. This explains why Norway will never be the number one again.”

The salmon farming industry in Chile is growing faster than in Norway largely because it takes less time for the salmon to reach market size. “It takes 15.5 months to obtain a 4.7-kilo Atlantic salmon in Chile whereas in Norway this takes 17.5 months,” explained Liabo. Time is fast running out on Norway’s status as the world’s #1 salmon farming nation. That may not only be bad news for Norway but it could also be bad news for consumers of contaminated Chilean farmed salmon.

Contaminated Chilean farmed salmon destroyed

In November, the Chilean Government finally caved into international pressure to destroy a contaminated shipment of farmed Atlantic salmon. Ecoceanos News (11th November) greeted the news as a “great victory of organized citizens” (www.ecoceanos.cl). The shipment was detained by Netherlands last August, and sent back to Chile after illegal residues of the suspected carcinogenic chemical malachite green were detected.

Procint were forced to destroy the 22 tones of contaminated salmon after a resolution of the Chilean Ministry of Health prohibiting selling that salmon in the local markets. Critics from Chilean scientists as well as NGOs were alerted after it was discovered the company wanted to re-export the farmed salmon to the Russian Federation. Earlier this year contaminated Chilean farmed salmon also found its way into Estonia.

A coalition of organizations including NGOs, the medical board, and a group of deputies from the Chilean Congress are now requesting the creation of a Parliament Commission to investigate the reasons of the contamination of salmon productions with prohibited-chemical substances.

Dr. Juan Carlos Cardenas (DVM), Executive Director of Centro Ecoceanos said that: “The destruction of the contaminated shipment set an important precedent to the defence of the environment and public health and at the same time is a very powerful signal to the salmon industry to the need of increasing its environmental, health and labour standards in Chile.” Andrei Tchernitchin (MD), President of the Commission of Health and Environment from the Chilean medical board, said:

“Under sanitary and ethical criteria it is reprehensible to attempt re-exporting products to other countries where their regulations neither contain restrictions nor have adequate technologies to detecting the presence of toxic chemicals that are harmful for consumers”. Juan Trimboli, from Consumers International said to Ecoceanos News that: “This decision is in essence an important triumph for all citizens”.

Brian O'Riordan, coordinator of the International Collective in Support of Fish workers (ICSF), said: “NGOs and consumer groups alike in Europe are extremely concerned about the continued use of carcinogenic chemicals and other health-damaging substances in the global salmon farming industry. As the world's leading producer of farmed salmon, Chile has an important role to play in cleaning up the dirty practices of this important food producing industry.

However, malachite green is but the tip of the iceberg. We in Europe strongly support the recommendation for an independent Parliamentary committee to be established in Chile, both to look into this incident and into the wider abuse of antibiotics, antifouling and pesticides. The unrestricted use of such chemicals is a danger both to health of fish-farm workers and to consumers. It is in the interests of everyone for the salmon industry to clean up its act”.

Canada criticised on salmon

By acting as a cheerleader for the salmon farming industry, the Canadian Government is guilty of neglecting wild salmon – and that’s official. A report released in late October by the B.C. Auditor General, Wayne Strelioff, found the government isn't doing enough to protect habitat, has no clear vision for the future of wild salmon and has left too many unanswered questions about the risks from salmon farms. “Strong leadership is lacking and there is no central co-ordination body to oversee provincial activities,” he said in his report. “The findings of the audit concern me.”

Strelioff's report was done in co-operation with his federal counterpart and the auditor general in New Brunswick as part of a project that looked at salmon management issues across Canada. Suzanne Connell of the Georgia Strait Alliance called the findings “a damning report on the provincial government's failures”.

“We believe that British Columbians should be incredibly alarmed,” she told the Nelson Daily News (27th October). Connell said the report confirms that habitat is being damaged and fish farms are going ahead without adequate information. “They clearly state that we do not have the information we need,” she said.

The Auditor General’s report raised specific questions about the controversial issue of salmon farming. Unanswered questions included disease transfer from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild fish, inter-breeding, sea lice and the risk that escaped farm salmon will compete with wild fish. “Ongoing research is needed in these areas to ensure that salmon aquaculture does not pose an unacceptable risk to wild salmon and the environment,” the report found.

But has the Canadian Government sold wild salmon down the river already? “Given the province's lack of interest in exploring the issue and gathering data, chances are good that it will be far too late for the wild salmon when the case is proven,” said Pat Tracy in a letter to Burnaby Now (10th November).

Where’s the concern for salmon?

Public apathy in North America for wild salmon protection (and the ignorant public’s appetite for contaminated, fatty and artificially coloured farmed salmon) is placing the future of wild salmon in jeopardy. “Where’s the concern for salmon?”, asked Paul Willcocks of the Alaska Highway News (8th November). “It’s surprising how easily British Columbians have come to accept that the wild salmon may soon be just a memory,” he writes.

“B.C.'s Auditor General Wayne Strelioff has just released an audit on the future of wild salmon, part of a joint project with his counterparts in Ottawa and New Brunswick. The report is bleak reading, warning that after a consistent effort through the '90s to protect and rebuild wild salmon stocks B.C. has lost its way”.

According to Willcocks: “The future of wild salmon is at risk. The salmon is a spectacular creature, capable of amazing feats in making its way out into the ocean before returning and working its way sometimes hundreds of kilometres up-river to spawn. British Columbians have always valued the fish; it would seem wrong that we become the generation that just didn't care enough to protect the salmon”.

Returning to the B.C. Auditor General’s report, Willocks concludes: “It's a worrying report. More worrying was the government's bland assurances that things are really OK, without addressing in any substantial way the problems and threats raised by the auditor general. And even more worrying is the lack of public reaction. The government is drifting on protection of wild salmon, and failing to tackle key issues that threaten their survival. And British Columbians don't much seem to care”.