Fish Farming Report Delayed
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan rejected opposition allegations Monday that his department is withholding potentially damaging information on B.C. fish farms until after the May 17 provincial election.
"I can assure you that no one from the provincial government has asked for it to be delayed," Regan told The Vancouver Sun. "In fact, the department is reviewing and analysing the report. It doesn't wish to release it prematurely."
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced on March 22 that it would make public "by mid-April" final results of sea lice tests on wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, home to more than two dozen fish farms.
The official public briefing has since been delayed until "later this month," though a DFO official rejected a recent media report saying the information is being deliberately withheld.
"The technical briefing could be held before or after May 17. It depends on when the results and the scientists are available," Phil Jenkins wrote in an e-mail. "There is no relation between the timing of the technical briefing and the B.C. election."
But critics say the federal and B.C. Liberal governments, both strong promoters of the aquaculture industry, may be colluding.
"The whole thing is rather suspicious," said Conservative John Cummins (Richmond). "If this thing is delayed it may very well have something to do with the election, because it's a potential huge embarrassment, not only for the federal government but also the province, which has been so supportive of the industry."
Federal NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) also questioned the timing of the delay.
Gordon Campbell's Liberals have vowed to expand the fish farm industry to northern B.C., with up to 18 new sites planned in the Skeena River system.
The provincial NDP and Green party have both said they will place a moratorium on new sites and then help the industry develop "closed containment" facilities that are less of a danger to the ocean ecosystem.
DFO, in a July 30, 2004, news release, announced that the preliminary results of sea lice tests on wild stocks showed an increase in sea lice infections on wild salmon last year. The release played down a possible link to the farms.
But internal documents obtained recently by The Sun point to a possible fish farm link.
"Ongoing DFO fieldwork confirms earlier reports of substantially higher sea lice levels in the Broughton Archipelago in 2003 relative to 2004," states a September 2004 briefing note to Regan.
The documents said the predominant species of lice was Lepeophtheirus salmonis, most commonly found on farmed Atlantic salmon. A few months earlier, government and industry officials noted that in 2003, the most common lice was more associated with wild salmon.
Environmentalists have for years alleged that the farms are a breeding ground for parasites, which latch onto fish and feed on the mucous, skin and blood.
Former fisheries minister John Fraser, outgoing chairman of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Board, said there has been a "persistent failure" by both governments to gain public trust on the issue.
"Government research, to date, has skirted the issues of detecting whether or not there is a link between sea lice on farmed salmon and those on wild salmon, and whether sea lice are contributing to pink salmon mortality," Fraser, who is heading a new provincial government study, wrote in his final annual report.
Regan questioned Fraser's assessment.
"It seems to me that the analysis we've had in the past includes those kinds of questions."
© The Vancouver Sun 2005
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