Island Voices: Salmon farming central to Port Hardy's future

Dennis Dugas is the mayor of Port Hardy.

My big-city counterparts ask me why I support the fish-farming industry.

Simply put, salmon farming is a central part of my community, and has the potential to become even more important in the next few years.

article continues below

As with many other rural coastal communities, forestry and mining used to be Port Hardy’s economic engines, along with wild fisheries. However, those industries have declined in recent years due to a complex number of factors.

Aquaculture has filled the void, and is now the economic lifeblood of everyone’s futures.

In Port Hardy, hundreds of people (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) live by the raising, harvesting and processing of farmed fish. Not to mention the dozens of small, local businesses that supply equipment, materials and support services, and thus rely on a sustainable and growing salmon aquaculture sector for their success.

It’s one of our core economic drivers.

Many of the people I know who work in salmon farming are young adults who grew up here and are starting out on a career with plenty of potential. It’s giving them a reason to stay in their community. Others are moms and dads with children in our schools, who volunteer to coach our sports teams. They buy groceries here and eat in local restaurants.

They are good, genuine people, with the same concerns and worries anyone has.

The industry could be even more. A report out last week from an independent economist concludes that if the conditions are right, salmon farming could invest $1.4 billion and create almost 10,000 new jobs in the next 30 years. That’s more than twice as many jobs as salmon farming supports in B.C. today, and most of them would be in Port Hardy and numerous other communities up and down Vancouver Island.

I know more than one person who would welcome the opportunity to fill one of those jobs.

The Lower Mainlanders, they’ll say, “what about the environment and wild salmon?”

I care about the environment and the wild-salmon ecosystem as much as anyone. I’m a Vancouver Islander; the ocean is part of who I am.

The same goes for people I know who work in salmon farming. Many grew up here, beside the ocean. They care a great deal for wild salmon and our ocean environment, and indeed they work in it every day.

Most of the people making negative comments about salmon farming have never visited a salmon farm. I find people’s perspectives change once they’ve been on a farm themselves, seen the modern practices in place and met the people.

Critics should get up to speed on the leading-edge technology that modern farmers are using, and the science that tells us farmed and wild salmon can co-exist.

They ask me about First Nations. Truth is, like every industry, salmon farming needs to do a better job working with First Nations. But that work is underway. Through hard work, innovation and openness on both sides, salmon farmers and local First Nations have come together to create new ways of doing things that is creating prosperity and real progress for all involved.

My big city counterparts also ask me if I eat farmed salmon.

Of course! It’s healthy, it tastes great and it’s local.

Both the federal and B.C. governments named aquaculture an essential service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a local producer that can provide a stable supply of good food for our tables during a crisis where international shipping might be interrupted.

It’s not just good for us, it’s also a solution for building resilience in our food systems in Canada. I regularly look for it in our grocery stores, and would welcome the opportunity to cook some up for my big city friends.

I support B.C.’s fish-farming industry because it provides jobs in my community, is a sustainable, healthy food source, and is ready to lead the economic recovery of North Vancouver Island.

Enough said.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist

Find out what's happening in your community.