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Atlantic salmon and Pacific profits

The provincial government gives green light to expansion of controversial salmon farming operations

Like many of our environmental issues, there is no definitive scientific proof that the practice of salmon farming is good, bad or sustainable. As usual, both the supporters and opponents of aquaculture have mountains of scientific research to back their positions, and the rhetoric from both sides is just as thick.

In these cases the final decision is typically left up to the government, which has to weigh the good of a practice against the potential bad. $88 million in revenues last year, and almost unlimited room for growth is good. The bad could be really bad, but that has yet to be proved.

For that reason, the B.C. government has decided not only to let the salmon farming business continue, but also to expand – providing it can meet some new guidelines.

"The high operating standards proposed by government, along with improved practices, will protect the environment and allow the industry to expand in a sustainable and responsible manner," said John van Dongen, the minister of agriculture, food and fisheries. "For more than four years, government has exhaustively reviewed the scientific work done on the salmon aquaculture issue."

The new environmental standards and practices will kick in on April 30, allowing the first expansion of the industry since the government placed a moratorium on new marine salmon farm tenures.

The Environmental Assessment Office scientific review, completed in 1997, was one of the most rigorous and costly in the province according to the press release announcing the industry expansion.

The review concluded that the risks to the environment were low, even with past practices. It made 49 recommendations to reduce the risks further which were accepted by government and industry.

It took another five years of wrangling to reach the current regulations, which include improved and new policies to prevent fish escapes, to ensure fish health, to locate and relocate farms, treat fish waste, and conduct research and development.

"The decision will provide the opportunity for careful and sustainable growth of aquaculture in our hard-hit coastal communities," said Stan Hagen, minister of sustainable resource management. The government also believes that the fish farms will help to reduce the pressure on current salmon runs, aiding in their recovery.

Coast communities have been hurt in recent years by the closure of timber industries, and by recent moratoriums on fishing wild coastal salmon due to smaller runs.

The David Suzuki Foundation, one of the most outspoken opponents of current salmon farming practices, was quick to react to the government’s decision.

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