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Alaskan government calls for sablefish farming delay

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Thursday, October 21, 2004

By Ellen Yeung

The president of the local sablefish hatchery on Salt Spring is accusing the Alaskan government of hypocrisy as it pressures Canada to delay sablefish farming in B.C.

“[The Canadian Sablefish Association] has been lobbying the Alaskan governor for quite a while, so this is not the first letter the Alaskan governor has sent over,” said Gidon Minkoff, president of Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. on Monday. “At the same time, the Alaskan government is now looking into sablefish farming themselves, so there’s a lot of hypocrisy here.”

Governor Frank Murkowski of Alaska sent a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell last week asking him to prevent sablefish (black cod) farming until the Canadian government assesses its economic, social and environmental impacts. But Minkoff said the Alaskan governor has bowed to the pressure of a lobby group that acts on behalf of a monopoly, with seven people owning about 75 per cent of the sablefish industry in Canada. “It [the fishery] is worth about $30 million dollars a year,” Minkoff said. “It’s basically some very rich guys trying to stop any other activity that might interfere with their profits.”

A Salt Spring group that has opposed establishment of the Walker Hook hatchery reacted positively to Murkowski’s position. “For two years our various government agencies have ignored requests by residents, First Nations and the wild fishery to do the science-based studies and environmental impact assessments that should have been done by the aquaculture industry,” said Donna Martin on behalf of Salt Spring Residents for Responsible Land Use. “We hope now, that the governor of Alaska has asked for the same studies, indicating there might be economic implications, the provincial government will do something.”

Governments have not published studies on the impact of sablefish farming, notes a Juneau Empire new story, while B.C. recently issued 47 licences allowing fish farmers to add sablefish to their existing Atlantic salmon saltwater net pens. The Alaskan governor stated in his letter that he believed native stocks, which migrate between B.C. and Alaska waters, may be harmed by disease and predation from farmed sablefish. “Given the high stakes involved for both the state of Alaska and British Columbia, I would ask that you pursue a careful science-based look at the potential impacts before allowing sablefish farming,” Murkowski said in his letter.

Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. produces juvenile sablefish, which it plans to sell to fish farms. Its recent application for a permanent waste management permit to discharge 2,618 m3/day of effluent has sparked renewed opposition on Salt Spring.

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