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Foundation calls for contained fish farms, says wild salmon in B.C. need protection

The foundation created to conserve and rebuild Pacific salmon stocks is calling for a switch from open net-pen aquaculture to closed containment systems in order to protect wild salmon returning to British Columbia waterways.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation says in a news release that open-net salmon farming poses biological risks to the abundance and diversity of already depleted wild Pacific salmon.

In rejecting open-net systems, the foundation says the federal and provincial governments should put wild Pacific salmon first and manage any risk of disease transfer from farmed salmon.

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The foundation says its conclusions stem from recent scientific reports, critically low returns of Fraser River sockeye and struggling populations of chinook, coho and steelhead.

A full transition to land-based aquaculture will take time, so the foundation recommends that the first priority should be removal of open-net farms from the migratory routes of wild salmon, especially Fraser River sockeye.

Foundation directors are also calling for an improved assessment of risks to wild salmon, pointing to work it is already doing with research groups in tracing viruses that have the potential to harm wild salmon.

A recent federal audit by environment commissioner Julie Gelfand concluded that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had failed to adequately manage the risks that salmon farms pose to wild Pacific salmon.

The foundation says the resource is invaluable to the province, its ecosystems and its people, and action must be taken.

“The approach of waiting for scientific certainty is unrealistic because the potential risks have continually been placed on our wild Pacific salmon,” says the foundation’s report.

The group says it remains prepared to assist the provincial and federal governments in the move to closed-containment aquaculture and restoration of wild Pacific salmon.

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“While changes have been implemented by the industry, concerns about interactions with wild Pacific salmon continue to grow and we see no resolution to them in the short term,” the report says.

Canada is the forth largest producer of farmed salmon behind Norway, Chile and the United Kingdom.

The environment commissioner’s report said the Canadian industry is considered to have significant potential for growth because of its long coastline, cold waters and proximity to the United States market.

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