IN THE NEWS ~ MP wants summit on salmon

Saturday, September 12, 2009
Jennifer Moreau
Burnaby Now

Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian is renewing calls for an emergency summit on the millions of missing sockeye in the Fraser River and asking the federal government to step up fish farm regulations.

Julian said the provincial government is respecting a February Supreme Court ruling that it will not be overseeing fish farms, which he said has left a regulatory void.

"The federal fisheries minister has done absolutely nothing to fill that void," Julian said. "No one in Ottawa seems to be aware of how serious the situation is on the West Coast."

In July, Fisheries and Oceans Canada was forecasting 10.6 million sockeye salmon would return to the Fraser this year. The new overall estimate is 1.3 million, roughly one in eight of what was expected.

No one knows what happened to the sockeye, but one theory is that sea lice from infested fish farms is a contributing factor - that's part of the reason Julian wants the federal government to step up regulations.

The B.C. Agriculture Ministry oversees some aspects of fish farms, but a Supreme Court decision in spring ruled it was the federal government's jurisdiction.

The court also gave the federal government till February 2010 to assume responsibility.

And although it's been about six months since the court's decision, Julian is worried the fish farming industry will be left to regulate itself. He wants an immediate summit with representatives from B.C. fisheries coastal communities, stakeholders and First Nations on the future management of aquacultural and declining wild salmon stocks in B.C.

"There has been no response from the provincial government, no response to the Supreme Court judgment, no response to the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye," Julian said. "There's just been nothing. Utter silence. It's as silent in Ottawa as it is silent on the Fraser River."

But the Agriculture Ministry said there is no regulatory void. It's business as usual, and it's still monitoring fish farms till the February 2010 deadline.

Spokesperson Jessica McLachlin said the court ruled the province would retain its role as regulator of marine finfish aquaculture during the transition period.

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was not available for an interview about Julian's call for an emergency summit.

For more on this story, see Jennifer Moreau's blog, Community Conversations, at www.burnabynow.com.

© Burnaby Now 2009