The majority of Canada's North Coast community leaders want to quell the rise of salmon farming in their region.
The Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District Board voted 6-3 on Friday night to ask federal Canadian and British Columbia regulators to halt new salmon farms in their 7,696-square mile district bordering Alaska's Inside Passage.
The board voted it will support lifting the moratorium once the industry finds a "closed containment" technology - a proven method to keep farmed salmon from escaping into North Coast waters and competing with wild fish, said Des Nobles, the board's District A director and a vocal opponent of Britich Columbia's net-cage salmon industry.
"Our whole lives are built around wild Pacific salmon," Nobles said on Monday.
The Canadian government has already approved one farm this year in Anger Anchorage, near Prince Rupert - a joint venture of Pan Fish Ltd. and the Kitkatla First Nation - and two other projects remain under review. The Kitkatla tribe signed an agreement with Pan Fish, based in Campbell River, British Columbia, to develop a total of 10 farms in a 30-year period.
As of Monday afternoon, the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries had not received word of the proposed moratorium, according to Barb Wright, a ministry spokeswoman.
Environmentalists claim the proposed farms are situated along eight significant wild salmon migration routes, including the southern migration route to British Columbia's second largest salmon river, the Skeena.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is worried about the possible economic and social effects on commercial wild fisheries from the farms, said agency spokeswoman Sarah Gilbertson. She said the board's decision on Friday was "further evidence" of shared concerns of Alaskans and British Columbia residents.
Ton Briglio, a district director for Prince Rupert, said his city is split "50-50" on salmon aquaculture in its surrounding waters.
"I believe we need to hear from both groups ... Let's start talking about genuine scientific issues," he said.
Commercial fishing in Prince Rupert has declined to 20 percent of its historic effort, he said. The North Coast lost more than half its fleet and more than 1,000 jobs in the mid-1990s due to salmon conservation measures.
It isn't fair to criticize the Kitkatla tribe and other Native villages for turning to aquaculture "when their economic base is zero right now," Briglio said.
The Skeena-Queen Charlotte District includes the Queen Charlotte Islands and a stretch of mainland north and south of Prince Rupert. Major rivers include the Skeena and the Nass.
Dale Kelley, of the Alaska Trollers Association, said she is worried that the North Coast could pose more problems for aquaculture than in southern British Columbia, where farms are generally in more protected waters. Atlantic salmon from those protected areas have already escaped and spawned in Alaska streams, she said.
"It's pretty dramatic ocean up there in the North Coast," Kelley said. Escaped farmed fish "is the crux of the issue for Alaska fishermen," she said. "The impact on our resource in the long term is unknown, but potentially devastating."
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneau empire.com.
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