B.C. VIEWS: U.S. interests pull our strings again

November 3, 2009

By Tom Fletcher - BC Local News, Published: November 03, 2009

VICTORIA – If you go to the grocery store and buy a can of sockeye salmon right now, chances are it will say “product of U.S.A.” on the label.

The can I’m holding was sold as a house brand at a large B.C. supermarket chain. The label states the ingredients – sockeye salmon and salt – along with Canada’s mandatory nutrition facts chart. It doesn’t specify that it’s from Alaska, which it likely is, but it does have a logo that says “wild Pacific salmon,” which is, to say the least, debatable.

With some B.C. sockeye runs in an apparent state of collapse, our commercial and even aboriginal food fisheries banned this year, Alaska and Washington state fisheries are relatively strong. The reason for this is the U.S. practice of salmon 'ranching,' where billions of salmon fry are raised in tanks, fed pellets until they’re big enough and then released to sea.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has long resisted this technique, which produces a massive meat fishery at the expense of genetic diversity and the ocean habitat truly wild salmon depend on. In a seagoing version of the American west, ranched salmon are grazing the commons bald as wild herds disappear. In political terms, salmon ranching has become the prop that holds up the western U.S. commercial and aboriginal fishery.

The implications for B.C. are frightening.

Washington state is currently defending a lawsuit brought by area native tribes, demanding that millions be focused on repairing state highways where culverts have cut off salmon streams. Last week the state called its Recreation and Conservation Office representative, Jeffrey Koenings, to testify about the urgent need for site-specific programs and targeted harvesting of hatchery fish, rather than just opening the rest of the range to the ranched herds.

Ranched Pacific salmon don’t just flood the whole West Coast habitat, they interbreed freely with wild stocks. The Americans ranch chum, pink and Chinook as well as sockeye. As a result, Koenings testified in a Seattle court Oct. 23, all but four of Puget Sound’s 22 watersheds are now dominated by hatchery fish. He warned that if the state focuses strictly on access work now, they will soon dominate the rest and the state’s wild salmon will be gone.

As I described last week, none of this is discussed in B.C. political circles. Here it’s all about the alleged evils of fish farms. Why? According to research brought to my attention last week, one reason is a staggeringly big negative marketing campaign financed by U.S. private foundations to discredit farmed salmon as a food source.

Former Kitimat resident Vivian Krause has assembled a heavily documented critique of the campaign, which has flooded North American media with exaggerated warnings, first about PCBs in farmed salmon, and now about the hazards of sea lice.

In the past two years, Krause has pestered two of B.C.’s environmental demigods, David Suzuki and Alexandra Morton, to detail the extent of the funding their foundations have accepted to take part in a “demarketing” campaign that demonizes fish farms and coincidentally benefits Alaska and Washington interests.

She documents that the David Suzuki Foundation has received more than $10 million from these U.S. sources.

Few understand the impact of this slick “farmed and dangerous” campaign better than Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney, whose community lost a salmon processing plant last year because of it.

Furney notes that the same U.S. foundations attacked B.C.’s logging industry more than a decade ago, with similarly dubious claims in full-page ads in the New York Times.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com