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British Columbia tells fish farms to suspend operations

Sea-lice outbreak threatens to spread during salmon run

The Globe and Mail

7th February 2003

British Columbia's new Fisheries Minister has ordered 11 fish farms, which have been blamed for contributing to an outbreak of sea lice, to shut down their pens during the spring run of wild salmon.

Yesterday's announcement by Stan Hagen follows pressure from environmental and native groups seeking to halt fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

"We will have effective compliance and enforcement," said Mr. Hagen, who took over as Fisheries Minister on Jan. 27, after the resignation from cabinet of John van Dongen.

Mr. van Dongen stepped down after revealing that he is under an RCMP investigation into his handling of an aquaculture file.

Critics said that Mr. van Dongen and the province's Liberal government aligned themselves too closely with the fish-farming industry.

Mr. Hagen, who is also Sustainable Resource Management Minister, said yesterday that he wants to send the message that the B.C. Liberals are concerned about the environment.

In Courtenay on Vancouver Island yesterday, he held meetings with industry officials, environmentalists and native leaders, outlining his government's plans to protect wild stocks of salmon from sea lice believed to have originated at fish farms.

"We welcome the investment of fish farmers and the jobs that they create in coastal communities, but that will not happen at the expense of the environment," the Fisheries Minister said.

The shutdown of 11 fish farms is expected to last more than two months, starting in late February. Another nine fish farms in waters near Vancouver Island will be monitored for sea lice, and if necessary, they will be treated for any infestation.

Seven other pens in the Broughton region hold juvenile salmon, and are not being targeted because they are considered to pose little risk of carrying sea lice.

More than 60 aquaculture operations on other parts of the West Coast will not suspend operations.

The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform said a sea-lice outbreak last year threatens to decimate wild pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago.

Environmentalists, worried about the transfer of diseases, have been sounding the alarm over a sharp decline in wild pink salmon to an estimated 147,000 last year from 3.6 million three years ago.

They say that instead of raising salmon in sprawling cages with nets in the ocean, it would be better to contain the fish in massive bags or tanks, in the ocean or on land.