IN THE NEWS ~ NDP Is Right to Call for Sockeye Inquiry

NDP Is Right to Call for Sockeye Inquiry
The catastrophe doesn't seem to concern Tories, Grits. In fact, they don't want to know.
By Rafe Mair, Today, TheTyee.ca

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2009/11/02/NDPSockeyeInquiry/

The NDP tread where the Conservatives and Liberals fear to go as NDP Fisheries Critic Peter Julian and MP hopeful Fin Donnelly call for an independent judicial inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye.

It should happen. It must happen. And it won't happen.

On reason it won't is that Fisheries Minister Gail Shea wouldn't know a sockeye from a mud shark. Another is that the fish farmers contribute handsomely to Conservative and Liberal party funds. The third reason I'll share in a moment.

Bumbling detectives

The sockeye situation is ludicrous. We know they're gone but we don't know all the reasons. However, we do know one reason -- the migrating sockeye smolts (salmon babies) must run the gauntlet of the Broughton Archipelago fish farms, and the sea lice from those cages kill them. But fish farmers are contributors to the pockets of both governments. And the claims of independent scientists are ignored.

We also know that some smolts are eaten by escaped Atlantic salmon. What we don't know is whether there are other causes when the smolts are maturing on the high seas. Indeed, in spite of what government lackeys and lickspittles are saying, we don't even know if the high seas kill any appreciable amount. In blaming ocean predators and conditions, the lickspittles and company men reason that "because we don't believe that lice from farms and escaped Atlantic salmon cause very many, if any deaths, we assume that these deaths are from causes unknown." If police detectives reasoned like that, the jails would all be empty.

Moreover, the convenient "high seas" argument ignores the fact that pink, chum and sockeye from rivers not contaminated with fish farms, or in Alaska which bans fish farms, migrate to the same "high seas" and returned in abundant -- and in some cases record -- numbers.

Rules of science and law ignored

It must be noted that the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), First Nations Summit and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations resolutions all oppose fish farms. Moreover, in 2007 Marine Harvest's largest shareholder, billionaire John Fredriksen, while fishing on the famous River Alta, told a reporter from the Altaposten Newspaper, "I'm concerned about the future of wild salmon. Move salmon farms out of the path of wild salmon."

There are two related rules of science and law prevailing here. The science rule is the "precautionary principle" which states that if a policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that the harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who advocate taking the action.

The legal rule is that he who alleges has the burden of proof.

In short, the onus of proving the lack of adverse environmental impact rests squarely on the fish farmers -- but, with thanks to former Liberal ministers like John Van Dongen, they have passed this onus onto the public. As a result, the task has fallen to courageous citizens like Alexandra Morton and a plethora of independent scientists who support her findings. The fish farmers have had a free ride throughout.

The media has been shamefully silent, with the occasional exception of Stephen Hume in the Vancouver Sun and the more frequent interventions of his brother Mark in the Globe and Mail. The last electronic media person to take on this issue was me -- and in 2005 I was fired. I believe it was because I fought against these environmental nightmares.

The dam truth

Here is the third reason nothing will be done.

When jurisdiction for fish farms was given back by the province to the feds by a recent court case, fish farmers were assured that it would be business as usual. In fact, Minister Gail Shea went to a huge conference of fish farmers in Norway and assured them that Canada wanted even more of them. The bottom line is that the federal government doesn't give a fiddler's fart about west coast fisheries and hasn't for decades. And there's a reason.

Since 1871, when B.C. joined Canada, the salmon fishery has been a gigantic political pain in the ass to the federal government. When I was the environment minister back at the beginning of the Christian Era, I studied the issue and found that year after year there were problems, and year after year the government fumbled them. A good example was some years ago when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decided that there were too many boats chasing too few fish and started to buy back fish boats. A child could have seen that the remaining boats would increase their capacity -- they did -- and the problem remained.

All the while, there has been salvation looming on the horizon rising from the mists of time -- the proposed Moran Dam on the Fraser River north of Lytton. Here's what I wrote on The Tyee on April 24 of 2006: "[this] proposed dam (Moran) was all the rage with the post World War II Liberals, especially Defence Minister Andrew MacNaughton."

But it didn't stop there. Bruce Hutchison, in his otherwise marvelous book The Fraser, painted a paradise built with all that power. W.A.C. Bennett was all for the idea in 1967, but outdoors people made such a fuss about the concomitant loss of salmon that he backed off.

Fish in the path of 'progress'

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was stripped of outspoken scientists back in 1986 when the two governments and Alcan agreed on the Kemano Completion project and DFO did what the politicians told them to do. That culture remains.

The only thing holding back this project is the migration of sockeye (mainly) that pass through the Fraser River past Lytton to northern spawning beds. A huge dam! Wouldn't it be wonderful! Power galore and no more of those damned salmon! If through a happy combination of fish farms and lack of care about habitat we can wipe out those salmon runs! Indeed, if we play our cards right, the only salmon left will be in wilderness rivers, left to satisfy wealthy fishermen on expensive fishing safaris. When that happy day comes, the DFO and the federal government will be rid of this millstone and there will be oodles of power to sell to California so that swimming pools can be kept warm!

Yes, give us a judicial inquiry

If the federal government cared at all about B.C. they would take on MP Peter Julian's suggestion. But it doesn't go far enough. There should be a judicial hearing into the Fraser sockeye collapse. I would suggest that the enquiry should be wider. However, we've learned that the wider the mandate, the more paid days for lawyers -- whose glacier-like pace when being paid per diem is notorious.

There are political considerations. If the NDP can combine the fish farm issue with the rape of rivers by the likes of General Electric, they could win seats that are usually Liberal or Conservative. The latter know that the NDP cannot form a government, but they could decide who holds power.
What a sad thing to contemplate. Neither the Liberal nor Conservative parties give a damn about B.C.'s fish or our rivers.

Why should they? In this country, if it isn't happening in Ontario or Quebec, it isn't happening.

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Former Socred MLA and veteran radio and print journalist Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. He has also served as a spokesperson for Save Our Rivers.