"In the days of the 1990's," when John Paul Fraser, Executive Director, BCSFA, cut his teeth on the west coast salmon dialogue, "the commercial fishing minister was under conservation pressure. There was anger, hostility, fear in the commercial fishery, it was under crushing pressure," to save the fleet.
He was then communications director for the federal minister of DFO, David Anderson, and Fraser saw the potential to change the dialogue. At the same time, public relations was turning to digital communications. Fraser found himself traveling the coast to create unity in the face of challenges to do right by people affected by such dramatic change.
Fraser was reminiscing in order to preface the future. "The Seafood West Summit is showing the passion of the fish farm community for all salmon on the coast." He was speaking to the summit held this fall in conjunction with the BCSFA 2018 AGM, at Thunderbird Hall in Campbell River, host community, Wei Wai Kum First Nation.
"Count on us to get it right. We had a great line-up of guest speakers. We are looking at the pluses, then asking, 'Why is uncertainty plaguing the industry?'"
The pluses for salmon farmers include new methods of treating sea lice, zero escapes of Atlantic salmon from Canada's west coast farm sites, no overfeeding of fish in net pens, farm product going to market under international certification, and an amazing ability to comply with a myriad of government regulations.
"Some of the pressure on the industry by observers is warranted. It provokes a vital dialogue and collaboration to seek best practices. It creates innovation and communication," says Fraser. The focus remains to stay the course in building confidence in the future of the industry.
"We are using public space, common ground. There are opinion opponents. We must remember that science is the pursuit of truth." Fraser calls for a Salmon Centre of Excellence where the regulatory authorities can vett processes like the presently accelerated DFO review of PRV.
"Our goal is to grow production and increase opportunities to maximize job creation, profits, and food production. The goal for us in 2019 is to occupy the public square, and for BCSFA to flip the narrative in favour of the contribution salmon farming is making to the greater good."
The reality is fish farmers are helping wild salmon to thrive. BCSFA members are engaged in funding research, enhancement programs, and community organizations that support sustainable wild salmon stocks.
"In 2022, DFO licenses on salmon farms are said to expire, so it's a major year on the horizon. What is the path to be built to that year?"
He says the BCSFA is set to clarify their role as stewards of the ocean on the west coast. "It's about sustaining our environment for future generations. It's about building a passion for seafood. It's about security of food for growing populations. And it's about sharing the industry story in the wider public domain."
Fraser closed his remarks and the Seafood West Summit by thanking out-going BCSFA Chair Vincent Erenst for a decade of service to the organization, and announcing next year's summit to be held in October 2019 in Victoria, B.C..
JP Fraser speaks to BCSFA AGM