Cermaq plans for 2 new fish farms in Clayoquot Sound

Cermaq Canada wants to install two new fish farms in Clayoquot Sound.

The company is applying for two new sites to increase West Coast production and allow other farms to have longer fallow periods.

Cermaq held an open house in Tofino last week to fulfill the community engagement requirement of their application and let locals know about their plans.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to show people what we actually do, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and it’s good to be able to put out accurate, current, upto-date information,” said Cermaq spokesperson Laurie Jensen.

One of the proposed new farms would be located in Herbert Inlet and will serve as a sister site to Cermaq’s Binns Island farm, with only one site operating at a time as per licence. The other farm is set for Millar Channel (Yaakswiis).

The planned farms are expected to have a positive impact on employment in the area. Five or six people are needed to manage each farm and approximately six people will be employed full-time installing each site, Warkentin said. Additionally, increase production capacity will help current positions.

About 87 current processing jobs are expected to be positively impacted, as the sites will produce more fish to be processed at the Cermaq Canada processing plant in Tofino.

There will be more work for the divers and contractors who service the farm sites, the company said.

Company figures from 2012 show over 60 West Coast service and supply businesses maintain the farms and processing plant, to the tune of $1.4 million outside of wages and benefits.

For 80 employees living in the Ahousaht, Tofino, Ucluelet area, and 155 full-time employees total, payroll and benefits are over $7 million annually.

With $800 million in salmon exported annually, BC farmed salmon is the province’s top agricultural export.

Each actual pen system takes up about 1.25 hectares, about 3 per cent of the tenure area.

The farms will be in Ahousaht First Nation territory. The Ahousaht support the application. Ahousaht First Nation member Wally Samuel spoke at the event and said the Nation looks forward to a good future with Cermaq.

“Ahousaht is satisfied with the process Cermaq has gone through in selecting these sites,” he said. “It’s about economic development survival in our area. I know we’ve got to be cautious and always keep an eye on it, and I’m sure we all will. We are concerned and protect our environment and protect our earth.”

Friends of Clayoquot Sound campaigner Emery Hartley stood outside the event in opposition to Cermaq’s proposed expansion.

“It’s a soft picket, we don’t want to cause trouble, we don’t want to cause conflict, we want to promote dialogue, that’s something that I think the current consultation process doesn’t promote,” he said. He suggested the open house was poorly advertised and he questioned whether Cermaq would take critical comments to heart.

“They haven’t changed their practices much in the last 5-10 years so we don’t think they’re taking the public concern very seriously,” he said.

Hartley did not plan to enter the open house.

“I’m not going to go in because I don’t think that this process is very legitimate,” he said. “I’ll stay out here and protest.”

Dave Ratcliffe, an ex-commercial fisherman who has lived on the West Coast since 1976, questioned whether Cermaq put enough effort into letting locals know about the open house and also questioned its validity.

“It’s not exactly an ideal place to hold officials accountable, it’s very informal,” he said, adding that the Cermaq representatives were friendly and respectful.

Ratcliffe said the project is experimental.

“It would be one thing to be doing that in a place where we didn’t have an alternative but we’ve got a viable wild salmon population and we’re putting it at risk.”

He would like to see the government move salmon farms toward closed containment.

“I’m not against salmon farms, I’m just against taking the risk of having them ‘wide open’ in our oceans,” he said.

“If you don’t believe Emery (Hartley) and if you don’t believe concerned citizens, you should be able to believe Cohen,” Ratcliffe said, citing the Cohen Commission Judicial Inquiry that examined the decline of the Fraser River sockeye.

The federal inquiry produced over 14,000 pages of testimony and findings, and addressed everything from global warming to fishing practices. It cost the Canadian government roughly $27 million.

It failed, Cohen said, to find a “smoking gun” – a single cause for a two-decade decline in Fraser River sockeye, and cited 75 recommendations regarding the sockeye fishery.

In his final report, Cohen said the inquiry’s data didn’t find fish farms were having a significant negative impact on Fraser River sockeye. Instead, he said, poor marine conditions in the Georgia Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound led to poor returns in 2009.

However, Cohen was critical of amendments to the Fisheries Act and skeptical of the DFO’s ability to be impartial, considering what he called the federal agency’s mandate to promote salmon farming. Cohen recommended no new net-pen salmon farm licenses be issued in the sockeye migration route area of the Discovery Islands until the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada can prove salmon farms do not pose serious threats to wild salmon.

The BC government adopted this recommendation and the moratorium in the Discovery Islands did not directly affect Clayoquot Sound.

Jensen said Cermaq is following Cohen’s recommendations.

“The Cohen commission had some good recommendations, interestingly enough we’re already following those recommendations,” she said.

“There’s been a lot of positive changes but some people get stuck in the past and they don’t understand that there’s current practices that are really good -and if they actually come and see what we do and how we’re doing it better, they could help us make an even better future,” she said.

With files from J. Carmichael.