Fifty of B.C.’s best known chefs have put their names to an open letter to the provincial government calling for an end to open net-pen salmon farms on the Pacific coast.
The letter, spearheaded by the David Suzuki Foundation, includes signatures from Vancouver notables, such as David Hawksworth, Hidekazu Tojo and Vikram Vij.
“Our restaurants depend on the bounty of the land and oceans for their success, and we need to nurture a healthy and sustainable environment for their future and future generations,” said Hawksworth, in presenting the letter.
The letter takes aim at ocean fish farms that First Nations and environmentalists argue host parasites and viruses which they claim spread to wild salmon populations.
Chef Jeremy Belacourt from Vancouver’s Salmon and Bannock restaurant hails from the Nuxalk Nation near Bella Coola, and told CKNW’s Simi Sara Show that they fear the destruction of the keystone species.
“We go back thousands of years and we’ve always depended on the salmon. I’m Indigenous and a culinary professional, so it’s kind of doubly important for me, salmon is part of our food culture.”
The letter’s key recommendation is a call for the province not to renew leases on 20 open net-pen salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago, which are up for review in June.
The farms have been fiercely opposed by First Nations, who occupied two of the farms last year, and recorded video of at least some fish that were unmistakably deformed and emaciated.
WATCH: New study shows wild salmon are infected by fish farm viruses
But the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association says the images presented by activists don’t paint the whole picture.
“I can say that those images don’t represent the population of fish that are on the farm,” said association member Ian Roberts.
“Like any population, and especially farmed animal populations, you have animals that are less than optimal that survive.”
The industry insists its methods are sustainable, and says salmon farms are an important part of B.C.’s economy, employing 6,600 people and generating about $1.5 billion in economic activity.
However, what Suzuki and the chefs are calling for isn’t an end to fish farming. Rather they say they want the pens moved onto land.
The industry argues that doing so would be prohibitively expensive.
As for the call not to renew the licenses, hours after the chefs presented their letter Thursday morning, a provincial advisory council recommend that no tenures be renewed without the agreement of First Nations.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she will consider the recommendation.