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Opinion: Now is the time for election candidates to pledge to protect Pacific salmon

Poll results show that the protection of wild Pacific salmon is a priority for British Columbians
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Election candidates would be wise to throw their support behind efforts to protect wild Pacific salmon, writes Tony Allard of the Wild Salmon Forever conservation society. photo Conor McCracken/Pacific Salmon Foundation

On Sept. 20, Canadians vote and all candidates are best advised to listen to the people.

A poll by Insight West, completed immediately before the federal election call, revealed that British Columbians not only overwhelmingly support restoration of wild Pacific salmon stocks (86 per cent), but they also strongly support a rapid transition of Atlantic salmon fish farms in B.C. to sustainable, land-based, closed containment farms (75 per cent).

Moreover, protection of wild Pacific salmon was a higher concern among British Columbians than concern over climate change or any other environmental issue.

The strong desire of British Columbians to save endangered Pacific salmon also aligns with the need for meaningful reconciliation. 102 First Nations in B.C. support transition of open net pen fish farms to land based closed containment, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs has passed multiple resolutions calling for such a transition.

And for those whose thinking is driven primarily by economic factors, the numbers speak for themselves. Six times as many jobs are supported by the wild salmon economy (including commercial and recreational fisheries) than by the conventional salmon aquaculture industry, according to the Pacific Salmon Commission and Statistics Canada.

Three decades after the collapse of the Atlantic cod stocks, numerous wild Pacific salmon runs are in sharp decline. Parasitic sea lice bred on the fish farms decimate out migrating juvenile wild salmon and the pathogen transfer from the Atlantic salmon farms to wild Pacific salmon introduces foreign viruses for which our Pacific salmon have developed no resistance. This is reckless.

For the first time in decades, the tide has turned against this polluting, unsustainable industry, and we look forward to a responsible transition to sustainable, land-based, closed containment farms. While BC continues as the environmental laggard – we are the only jurisdiction on the West Coast of North America to still allow open net pen farming – other jurisdictions, from Japan to Florida to the Emirates to Norway, are investing heavily in high-volume, land-based solutions. The longer we delay the transition, the more likely we are to squander first mover advantage on our Coast.  And, if we want this industry to grow – and we do – it has to do so sustainably, which means on land.

As we go to the polls, we need to remind all standing candidates that this is the time to redouble our resolve to wind down the farming of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Ocean along B.C.’s coast.

We are asking all federal candidates to sign a pledge to support the continued transition of open net pen salmon farms out of B.C. waters by 2025.

We have signatures from candidates of all major parties in B.C. (Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green), including the government’s fisheries parliamentary secretary, the Tories’ point-person on West Coast fisheries policy, the leader of the New Democrats, and the former leader of the Greens. This is leadership. We call on all other candidates for office to join the salmon protection movement, and we ask voters to see where their candidates are on wild salmon protection before casting their vote on Sept. 20.

West Vancouver resident Tony Allard is the chairman of the Wild Salmon Forever conservation society. He is also CEO of Vancouver-based Hearthstone Investments.