Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do you care about our wild salmon stocks?

Here is a portion of the transcript from the budget estimates I did focusing on aquaculture on Tuesday. There is some interesting answers regarding open net salmon farms........

To see the complete transript click on this link:

L. Popham: I think there has been a statement by the Minister of Environment on the lack of confidence in DFO that the public has regarding the aquaculture management situation and the collapse of our wild stock. I'm just wondering if the minister has confidence that DFO is capable of sustainable aquaculture management and is capable of protecting and helping bring back the salmon stocks in B.C. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. S. Thomson: Firstly, I don't think it's appropriate in my estimates to comment on the competency of a federal regulator, but what I can say is that, as part of our discussions that we are having and will be having with the federal government over the next months responding to the decision, provincial interests will inform the discussion and be a significant part of that discussion. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
And I also can say that we are working closely with my colleague the Minister of Environment as part of these discussions, ensuring that the concerns that he has raised are taken into account as we work on this arrangement with the federal government. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Popham: Can the minister tell me how long he expects the transition to take? I know that there has been a discussion that it might be February, but in the briefing I had prior to these estimates, there was an indication that it could take longer than that. Is there an end date for these discussions? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
I would like to know the nature of those discussions –– if there have been any stakeholders invited into those discussions. And I would also like to know, while the discussions are happening and while our province is still undertaking the management of the aquaculture and fish industry: will the minister be putting a hold on the permits that are pending right now? And I would also like to know: how many pending permits are there? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. S. Thomson: A number of questions there, so just to go through them. First of all, the court decision set out that the jurisdiction was to be transferred by February 9, 2010. That was the direction of the court, and that is the objective that we're continuing to work towards with the federal government. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
You asked about stakeholder engagement or consultation, and I can let you know that the federal government, as a courtesy, has advised us that they intend to have broad consultation on the new regulation, and in the process. That will take place over the next few months. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
You asked about the nature of the discussions. The nature of the current discussions are around essentially how well the federal government regulates and administers that portion of the regulation that is to be transferred to them as a result of the court decision. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
If you look at the court decision, you also know that in that transition period between now and then, the courts directed that the province will continue to administer and have responsibility for the industry under our current set of regulations and current management structure. We will continue to do that over that time period. That was what was directed by the courts. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
You asked about the number of new applications or number of applications. There are currently seven finfish aquaculture new applications that are in a process now of review, consultation. It involves very significant first nations consultation, environmental assessment. Those processes are continuing on those seven new applications. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Popham: Regarding the seven new finfish permits that are pending, I would like to know if these are separate applications from expanding current sites, and if there's a different number for those. I would also like to know if the minister believes that any of these permits will be approved before the transition is finished. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, the seven are separate. There are a number of other amendments in an application, requests in for…. These are amendments to tenures, licences — a number in the Broughton area, which I think is an area you may be asking about. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
In terms of the approval process, as you know, those applications go through a rigorous environmental assessment, a very significant level of first nations consultation — requires local government involvement in that. I'm not in a position to be able to speculate as to whether any specific number or any of the new finfish applications may be approved within that time frame. Those depend upon that very rigorous process. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
We've got the strongest, strictest environmental regulation on the industry probably in the world and with the level of consultation that's required before an approval. I can't speculate as to whether any specific number of those will be approved within that time frame before the February 9 date. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Popham: Could the minister tell me how many permits are expansion permits? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. S. Thomson: We're having some difficulty in very quickly getting that specific information for you. I think what I would like to say is that we're prepared, as a follow-up, to provide you with that information. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
There are a number of different kinds of applications, as you know, related to licensing renewal. Some, as you said, asked some expansion. I think to be fair, rather than provide a number that may not be completely accurate here, what we can commit to do is provide you that as a follow-up — a breakdown of the number of additional applications that we have currently in the system and under review, in addition to those seven new finfish applications that I talked about earlier. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Popham: I would just like to state that it makes me very uneasy to think that we would be considering giving permission for new finfish aquaculture operations to begin as we're transitioning into a different type of jurisdiction with those. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
I think the constituents around B.C. are very concerned about the sustainability of the current aquaculture situation. I think people are really concerned that we should be moving from open-net containment to closed-containment aquaculture. I want to know if there's any money in the line item to help fish farms transition to closed-net containment systems. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
[D. Horne in the chair.]

Hon. S. Thomson: No, there is not a specific allocation of dollars for closed-containment work, but we have committed and have our staff resources working in that area. We have significant expertise that we have built up over the years in the industry within our staff — some very, very good staff who are working with organizations and people interested in closed-containment technology. Part of the work of our staff is to do that and to work, looking forward, and researching that technology. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
We do work with organizations directly, like the coastal association of aquaculture reform and the Save Our Salmon society. We're working with those. I've recently met with them, as well, to discuss their interest in these areas. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
We'll continue to ensure that our staff resources and expertise that we've built up continue to contribute to the research and the investigation of that type of technology. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Popham: I would like to know…. Given the court ruling that open-net salmon farming is a fishery and not agriculture, will the industry's tax assessment change from farm tax to industrial tax? Industrial tax is much higher than farm tax. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. S. Thomson: Yeah, a good question, and not one I have a specific answer for, but I think it's certainly something we can look into. I think it was also one that was appropriate to be canvassed under the Ministry of Finance estimates, as well, because that's where the tax policy decisions rest. But I think it's a very good question, and I thank you for raising it, and it's something we'll look into. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Popham: What does the minister believe will be the status of the B.C. sustainable aquaculture report now that there is going to be a transfer to DFO? I am concerned that all of this work and the money spent and the hours spent will be lost in the shuffle, and I'm hoping that the minister will be bringing it to the table. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, that report and information will be used to help inform our discussions with the federal government. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]