The agitator from the archipelago 

Alexandra Morton comes to Squamish to speak against salmon farming

Imagine: The Broughton Archipelago is a desiccated desert, sun forever at high noon, and Alexandra Morton is faced with a difficult decision. As much water as she needs to sustain her journey to shady salvation, or a tiny bowl of water with an endangered salmon swimming inside. Here’s the catch: Each drink is dispensed from Premier Gordon Campbell’s canteen.

Morton would probably choose the salmon.

The anti-fish farm crusader from Echo Bay will be coming to Squamish on Jan. 24 as part of the Winter Eagle Festival and Count at Brackendale Art Gallery. The crux of her talk will be a battle she’s launched in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

“I’ll update people on what I’m doing there and why I think the province shouldn’t be in the business of regulating fish farms,” she said in a phone interview with Pique . “We petitioned the judge to review whether or not the provincial government legally should be citing and regulating fish farms. Because they exist in the ocean, which is federal. There no precedent for the province to be managing something in a federal jurisdiction. And we’re arguing that the salmon farm is a form of fishery, and so it should be regulated by the federal government.”

And yet, there are some Newfoundlanders kicking around who might say the federal government isn’t much for sound fishery management either. But Morton knows that. Thing is, the industry is not in the informational dark ages anymore when it comes to fish farms. The evidence, like the sea lice, is ever-multiplying.

“All the scientific findings? The federal government is going to have to pay attention to those. The province can ignore it because it’s not their business. You’re barking up a dead tree with the province. They don’t have to listen.”

Call it David Lynch’s take on jurisdictional hierarchies. It comes from a late ’80s agreement that saw the federal government pass responsibility for fish farms to the province. That was then, and the premise was that there was no impact from these operations.

“The whole premise is flawed,” said Morton. “And they’re just allowing it to carry on. It’s totally a broken down system, and it’s not working.”

B.C. fish farms tend to be in migration routes. The high concentration of fish offers a fertile breeding ground for sea lice, which then attack wild salmon stocks in number they can’t possibly accommodate. Further, antibiotics and waste all flow freely into wild waters. Ailing salmon have a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem; just look at this year’s piffling eagle count.

“If you want to farm, go for it,” Morton said. “But do it in closed tanks. Do it where you’ll only wreck one river. And the great thing about fish farms is you just tow them away, just haul them off. The bottom’s a mess, but you can get rid of a lot of those problems.”

The lice, for example, die in the winter without anywhere to go.

It’s a pity, said Morton, because salmon are an incredibly resilient species. She eschews arguments against eating even wild salmon, such as the one put forward in a recent edition of The Tyee , because of falling runs. The runs bounce back, she said, pointing to a robust season in Alaska as proof.

“If you think about the City of Vancouver and the Fraser River, Vancouver is the only city in the world with a major salmon run going through its streets. It’s not because it’s a clean city. It’s because the fish can take a lot. But they can’t take lice.”

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