In a compromise decision, the Strathcona Regional District has approved a proposed fish farm off northeastern Vancouver Island — but environmentalists say that's still one more fish farm too many.
Grieg Seafoods had originally applied to put two fish farms north of Sayward at Gunner Point, but after the district officials were flooded with submissions from supporters and opponents, the regional district directors sought a middle ground.
On Thursday they agreed to rezone only one of the two sites, allowing the company to build one new open-net fish farm in Johnstone Strait. Grieg's managing director Peter Gibson and local fish processors said the farm will provide much-needed jobs.
"I think it's a good compromise and it's a way for us to move forward," said Gibson.
Conditions attached to approval
But approval was only granted after Grieg agreed to several conditions, including a "zero lice" policy — meaning the fish on the farm have to be kept virtually free of sea lice — and a move to a closed containment, rather than an open-net system, when the technology becomes commercially available.
Environmentalists have long argued they have scientific evidence that sea lice from open-net fish farms are responsible for crippling B.C.'s wild salmon stocks, but the supporters of fish farms have disputed those claims.
Closed-containment systems are seen as a solution because they would keep the farm salmon separate from wild stocks, but the systems aren't yet used in commercial production.
Environmentalists still concerned
Despite the conditions, opponents say it will be disastrous to place the fish farm, with its 700,000 salmon, along the migratory route of juvenile wild salmon leaving the Georgia Strait.
Ruby Berry of the Georgia Strait Alliance said the decision allows a huge open-net farm in a terrible location, with no guarantee it will ever move to closed containment.
"I would really like to see a definition of 'commercially viable closed containment.' I want to see really clear measurements about when they need to move to closed containment."
Berry said the Alliance also doesn't believe Grieg can maintain the promised zero lice policy, and the agreement offers no enforcement to ensure they do.