Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Canada's federal government held public hearings on the decline of the Fraser River sockeye late this summer, including three days that focused on fish-borne disease.
The official word from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was that there's no hard evidence that farmed fish is affecting the decline of wild fish. (And that includes the long-anticipated testimony of Kristi Miller, a genetics researcher whose article in the magazine Science suggested an unidentified virus could be killing Fraser River salmon.)
The DFO maintains that line even today in the face of a possible outbreak of infectious anemia on wild sockeye.
Even in this country, NOAA is promoting the expansion of — and funding for — finish aquaculture with a National Aquaculture Policy. Even the FDA is pushing to approve genetically modified salmon with very little concern over possible risks to wild stocks.
The good news is U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich have proposed an amendment to a federal agricultural appropriations bill that would kick start an emergency effort to research the virus and its threat to species, wild or farmed.
I'm not opposed to aquaculture altogether. If you can replicate a wild species' habitat (like many bivalve growers the world over do), or simply encourage it to flourish again (in the case of hatchery salmon), then your chances of upsetting the natural balance will naturally be reduced.
But farming an anadromous fish — even in open-ocean pens — is never going to come close to mirroring a wild habitat. A salt water bath is not the same thing as an ocean swim.
Commercial fishermen are famous for complaining about the precautionary principle. They'd have less to complain about if their wild stocks were not subjected to possible outbreaks from fish farms that are clearly well supported by the Canadian government. Where is the precautionary principle when research has proven the negative effects of farmed populations on wild stocks?
Here's the sweet spot: This week Canada's federal government announced that it's slashing the DFO research budget by nearly $57 million next year.
It's time to take a hard look at aquaculture. It is not wholly to blame for damages to wild species, so why not accept what damage it has done and do our best to move forward from there?
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