Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP federal election candidate Taylor Bachrach is calling on his opponents to support a pledge to protect wild salmon by ending open-net fish farms along the BC coast.
The pledge, organized by the Wild Salmon Forever Society, reflects growing concern around the impact of open-net fish farms on the health of wild Pacific salmon through the spread of disease and parasites.
“The risks of open-net salmon farms far outweigh the benefits. We need to see them out of the ocean where they’re no longer a threat to wild salmon,” Bachrach says.
“Wild salmon are such an iconic species for this part of the world, and they’re an important contributor to our economy and our way of life. We need to be doing more to ensure their long-term survival.”
The pledge asks the candidate if they are aware of the risks posed to salmon by open net pen salmon farming, and if they support doing away open net pens in return for incentives to convert to closed pens by 2025. Recently, the Liberal Party also promised to transition to closed containment pens by 2025.
Open fish farms are large cages or nets placed in coastal waters containing hundreds of thousands of fish.
While effective, waste accumulates on the ocean floor and wild stocks can be affected by chemicals and disease.
In 2017, an open fish farm collapsed in Washington state, causing more than 250,000 Atlantic salmon to escape, spreading parasites and diseases into the open ocean. The event prompted Washington lawmakers to ban open Atlantic salmon farming, a move also taken up by California, Oregon and Alaska.
British Columbia is the only region on the Pacific coast that still allows open-net fish farms, though the B.C. government has imposed a moratorium on new fish farms for several years.
The pledge was sent to three other party-backed candidates including Claire Rattée, Green Party Michael Sawyer, and Liberal Dave Birdi. There’s been no response from Sawyer or Birdi, and Rattée was the only one to decline signing the pledge.
Bachrach says while the region is fortunate to have a moratorium banning fish farm applications or any licenses for salmon farming along the North Coast, it doesn’t provide 100 per cent assurance there won’t be efforts to bring salmon farms back in the future.
“This is a discussion that we’ve had in the past when plans were put forward for open-net farms in the Skeena. At the time I think most folks who care about seeing wild salmon in the Skeena agreed that it was a bad idea. That’s why I was surprised to see that the Conservative candidate has responded by declining the pledge,” Bachrach says.
“There are plenty of issues on which we as candidates are going to disagree, but I would hope given the importance of wild salmon to Northwest B.C., this could be the one issue where we can stand together.”
Birdi says he plans to respond to the pledge, and Sawyer says he has told the society he’ll be adding his signature.
The Wild Salmon Forever Society says they will be sending out the pledge to the other riding candidates, including Christian Heritage Party candidate Rod Taylor, People’s Party candidate Jody Craven, and Independent candidates Danny Nunes and Merv Ritchie.
The Terrace Standard has reached out to Rattée for comment.