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An open net salmon aquaculture site on the BC coast
General · 30th June 2009
Jim Abram
The making of a silk purse out of a sow's ear

As many of you are aware, we as directors have been going through extensive deliberations regarding the application by Grieg Seafoods for two fish farm sites near Sayward, in Area C. This has been a very trying time for each of us and probably one of the harder decisions I have had to make as your director. I had an incredible volume of information to thoroughly read, two public hearings to attend, countless emails and phone calls to answer and many, many discussions with my fellow directors on this topic. It has been difficult to concentrate on anything else.

As your director, I am in the unenviable position of having to make decisions. I am your representative but I am also expected to be a leader. Sometimes the two positions can cause conflict for me. In this situation, everything was conflicting! I have a community that has people on both sides of the issue that require "representation" and I have people on both sides of the issue that require "leadership". And I have to try to be all things to all people! We all know that this is impossible and that is where the leadership role needs to come into play.

I was put into the position of trying to find a "middle ground" from the "representation" perspective since there are people who oppose fish farms and people that earn their livelihoods from fish farms living in Area C. That position was completely impossible to deal with. Adequately addressing both sides' needs was impossible.

Hence, the "leadership" role, and the bolded title above. How can I take a difficult situation and try to come out with a decision that will do the best job of making things better for Area C and for the coast in general? My thought was to fall back on my long time, tried and true philosophy of "Balance". I needed to find a way to balance the needs of the workers in our area and also the concerns of those who are concerned about wild salmon. And I will note here, that I am one of those people who is concerned about our wild fish and our entire ecology. It is all part of my being.

I came up with a compromise proposal that would allow some economic activity, and, at the same time, try to move a very unpopular industry toward a more sustainable and responsible position with regard to wild fish. That was the goal: improve the industry that is here to stay for the time being so that no damage to the wild systems would occur as a result. Quite the task, but it came to me that if we don't try, then who will? The status quo didn't seem to be an option and we are in for another four years of government that has no intention of shutting down an industry that is such a huge economic engine for this province. So, my direction was to try to make it work, for both "sides".

The by law has been given third reading and my proposal limits it to one site with a whole list of conditions. For those of you who were not there at the SRD board meeting last Thursday, I am including, verbatim, what I had to say at the board table. This is a proposal. The board agreed to it. I have no idea if the industry will agree to it. They must still come back to the board for final adoption, after they have met all of the conditions that I have proposed.

The following is what I had to say:

*As background, I was elected to my position in 1988. I was requested by my community to run for office due to the unprecedented proliferation of fish farms in what was then, Area J. My community was not happy and they wanted to see an immediate halt.
*I spent my first year in office dealing with the provincial and federal governments trying to stop the issuance of any further tenures. I worked with the Ombudsman's office for many months and toured him to sites in the area to demonstrate the inappropriate siting and bad practices of those early farms.
*It was to no avail.
*I then worked with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to put in place local government zoning in my area, over the areas covered by water, so as to give my constituents some say in the siting of farms.
*After two years of intensive meetings with the public and all sectors that were possibly affected, we came up with unique foreshore zoning. Over the following 5 years we managed to extend that zoning to all areas within Area J.

*Let me be very clear... At that time I did not like what I saw with fish farms: I didn't like the siting; I didn't like the operational practices; and I didn't like how they were impacting my constituents and other users of the finite areas of water within Area J.
*What I did at that time was to work with my community and with the industry to mitigate the impacts.
*I had meeting after meeting with focus groups and with the industry and with the total community.
*My mantra was "Balance". If we were going to live together, work together, and thrive as a community, we would need to achieve balance.
*All parties' interests must be looked after, and I believe that they were, through the zoning.
*For clarity once again... I have never been a proponent of major industrial activity in the areas that I represent.
*I fought with the forest industry for years, opposing short-sighted practices that impact my constituents.
*Once again... Balance!
*Forest activity was not going to go away, so it seemed that a forum for discussion with the industry was the best way to achieve that balance.
*I established, with help from other members of the community, a "Forest Resources Committee" that I got sanctioned by our Regional District board, that included representatives from all affected user groups and from our major TFL holder and forest workers.
*We managed, over a period of a few years, to completely change the way that industrial forestry was carried out on our islands. The huge clear-cuts we had seen were limited to 5 hectares; local loggers were employed; local planters and spacers were employed; pesticide use was all but eliminated. Wood lots were promoted and now support many families on the islands.
*We did this by working with industry and government, not by fighting them. Confrontation did not work!

*20 years or so ago, many of us protested the events that were causing the decline of our salmon stocks.
*Things such as habitat destruction from industrial forestry...
.. such as overfishing of all species, from salmon right on down the food chain to the species that the salmon needed to survive.
... I supported a federally proposed, drastic reduction in fish harvesting... to give all species a time to recover.
*Stocks were plentiful then and humans, being human, took advantage of that... all sectors. Profits were high.
*Now, due to habitat destruction, changing ocean conditions, over-fishing and political mismanagement of the fishery for too many years, stocks have declined.
*Fishers and conservationists are now keenly aware of the situation and have added the introduction of fish farms to the list of reasons for that decline.

*And maybe fish farms are part of the problem...
*I don't know the answer.

*But I do know that we have an opportunity in this present rezoning to find out more information on the topic; to do much needed testing; and to leverage this industry into more sustainable practices such as closed containment systems.

*Two sites have been applied for in my area.

*What I am proposing, is the following:

*That only one site be approved at Gunner Point.
*That Greig Seafood voluntarily include in its DFO "Authorization Agreement", the following:
1. That the timing of introduction of fish and harvesting of fish from their pens will be done as outlined to us in detail. (see Public Hearing #2, letter from Grieg).. include all points in the resolution
2. That the juvenile fish will be "lice free". (same comment as above)
3. That extensive and ongoing monitoring of sea lice on wild salmon will be carried out among the wild migration routes in the proximity of this site (same comment as above)
4. That all data gathered will be publicly available.
5. That the program for lighting, as outlined to us, will be adopted. (same comment as above)
6. In addition to the above, a separate "Letter of Undertaking" be provided by Greig: That the site will be converted to closed containment technology as soon as it is commercially available. (the word "viable" was never used by me. intentionally.)
7. And that this condition will be met prior to final adoption of the by-law.
8. Should the producers of the containment technology require a test site/pilot project we would encourage that this site be selected for that purpose.

*The sooner the better.
*I have talked a lot about balance...
*Well, this is one more example.
*I represent members of a community, some of whom are strongly opposed to open-net cage fin-fish farming and a community that is very dependent on the fish farming industry.
*Walcan seafoods is one of the largest employers and they depend on both commercial and farm fish. And their workers and their families are also my constituents.
*Greig Seafood has asked for what they want.
*I have proposed something that will give them some of what they want and that will support the workers and families at Walcan.
*My proposal will also give us a push towards innovation. A push that I heard the public say that they want and that wild salmon need.
*I propose a balance.
*This industry is not going to go away. This provincial government will not allow that.
*It is up to us to find a way to work with industry and government to make this work for wild salmon and for my constituents.
This is our chance!
*I have put every ounce of my energy into trying to do the best job that I possibly can for my area for 20 years. I have tried to protect the beauty of this place and tried to protect all that is here. I have also tried to keep us diversified and economically viable.
*I continue in my efforts to balance these issues.
*Only those of you around this table know how difficult the position I am in really is. I wish the public could walk in our shoes from time to time and feel what it is like to be put in the position of making difficult decisions that take all points of view into consideration.
*This is one of the more difficult decisions I have had to make. It is not an easy one, nor is it easy for my fellow directors.
*New science comes in every day that must be considered. I view this site as a test as well as economic opportunity for Quadra residents and the surrounding area. It is a test that could advance fish farming into a new era of closed containment OR it could prove that wild and farm fish cannot co-exist.
*Quadra island and the area I represent is used to being on the leading edge of that breaking wave of innovation.
Once again, this is our chance to achieve balance.

So, that is what I had to say to the board of directors and I am now passing it along to you.

Your support of my efforts to continue to try and do the best that I can to represent all interests would be greatly appreciated. This is a difficult position, to say the least. I do my best and that is all that I can do. I hope that this report at least helps you to better understand the situation.

That is all that I want to bring to your attention for this issue... Feel free to call me between the hours of 8:30 am and 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday (not on weekends, folks!) at 285-3355, or you can fax me at 285-3533 or you can email me anytime at abramfamoberon.ark.com , or by mail at Box 278 in the Cove, V0P 1N0... Lots of choices!

Respectfully submitted,

Jim Abram
Director, Discovery Islands - Mainland Inlets (Area C), SRD