WATCH: B.C. fish farming has been a contentious issue for years but late last week, opponents got a big boost in their efforts to shut down the ocean-based farms, thanks to a decision south of the border. Isabelle Raghem reports.
Pens filled with Atlantic salmon are a familiar sight in West Coast waters. But there are growing calls to stop the controversial practice.
"These salmon farms just need to go. We need them out of the water, out of the wild salmon migration routes," says Watershed Watch Salmon Society director, Aaron Hill.
Washington state senators voted to phase out the farming in their waters last Friday. Current leases will be allowed to run out. The last one expires in 2025.
The decisions came months after nets at a Washington fish farm broke, allowing hundreds of thousands of Altantic salmon to swim into Puget Sound and B.C. waters. Since then, there have been increasing calls for B.C. to make the same move here.
"There's mounting evidence that salmon farms spread diseases and parasites to wild salmon and there's also the issue of escape," says Hill.
But fish-farm stakeholders are fighting back, expressing the importance of the industry to B.C.
"It supports 6,600 jobs, worth $1.5-billion to the economy here in British Columbia," says BC Salmon Farmers Association's director Jeremy Dunn.
Dunn says farmers have spent over $200-million in recent years to upgrade equipment so escapes like the one in Washington doesn't happen here.
"We've had no major escapes in the last ten years and less than 100 fish have escaped in B.C. collectively," adds Dunn.
Opponents are now asking the province to follow Washington's move.
"The federal government has the main jurisdiction on fish farms in B.C. waters that was given up by the B.C. Liberal government during their 16 year in government," says B.C. Minister of Natural Land Resources Doug Donaldson.
Donaldson says they are in talks with First Nations about the industry and farm tenures are up for renewal in June.
"We're concerned about protecting wild salmon and the jobs that entails on the coast."
Activist say the solution is to move the work onto land-based pens, which is already being done on one farm on the north Island.