Negotiating a sustainable fishing future

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There was an article in the Campbell River Courier-Islander last week reporting that salmon farmers were saying that demand for farmed salmon in the U.S. was greater than the amount that they could provide. With the total closure of salmon fishing off of the U.S. coast this year, the salmon farming industry is licking its chops and using the situation to set the stage for more pressure to expand the industry. Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association is quoted as saying "....there's frustration from the retailers about the lack of access to increased amount of B.C. product." Translation: Americans want more fish and we could all get rich if the government would just let us expand the industry some more.

This sounds a lot like a push back on the government for its recently announced moratorium on fish farms on the North Coast. An interesting development in that the current government was elected with fish farm support and dumped the task of investigating coastal aquaculture on a committee controlled by the opposition so it could avoid taking the blame for what everyone knew would be a finding against current aquiculture practices.

The recommendation of the committee is to move fish farms from open cages in the ocean to closed ones, either on land or in the water, thus removing most of the environmental risk from the operation. The industry, of course, does not want to do this as it raise costs and the people who eat the fish would pay higher prices now, rather than all of society paying a much higher price later when the environment collapses from the damage to the ecosystem caused by open pen farming.

The fish farm industry has something in common with the Canadian government and western provincial governments. They met in Banff last week to negotiate new Western Economic Partnership Agreements or WEPAs. Their goal, like the fish farmers, is to stimulate growth. Growth of course is the real problem. The more that we expand, the more the environment is destroyed and the less chance our descendants will have to enjoy a decent life. If we applied the same logic to cancer that we apply to our economic and social problems by encouraging growth, we would be creating cancer as a cure for cancer.

50 years ago we could hardly conceive of being able to outgrow our planet. Resources per capita were plentiful and the more we developed things the better things would get. And, if they didn't one could often move on to some relatively unspoiled place and try again. Growth appeared to be a friend.

Now, of course, there are hardly any, if any, unspoiled places as our population has tripled in the past 50 years and our per capita resources, if shared equally and sustainably, would have us all living on average like someone in Jordan or Uzbekistan. Those who live better than the people in those countries are living beyond the means of the planet to support them and their descendants indefinitely. Those who live beyond the planet's means make up two- thirds of the people on the planet. Even Mexico, where the average consumption is only a third of ours in Canada and just more than a quarter of that of the average American, has a consumption rate that is beyond the Earth's means to support it.

I read in a report last week that within 40 years 90 per cent of the edible fish in the oceans would be gone. That might sound like a big bonanza for fish farmers, no more wild fish to compete with, but it bodes ill for most of the rest of us. Add to that decreasing forests, farmland, fresh water, and the list goes on, and compound it with increasing population with increasing desires to have more, and only the dimmest of light bulbs or most fervent of deniers can't miss the obvious that something is going to collapse. And growth won't provide a long term solution to prevent it. In fact, growth just accelerates the problem.

So why do fish farmers want to expand and governments want to encourage growth when doing so is leading us to a precipice? They want to have more, getting more is the underlying value of the society that we have created. Even people who are getting less as a few get more and more, are hoping that they, too, can get more and turn things around. But it is a stacked deck. Those getting more are getting from those getting less and we can see this in the growing gap between the very rich and the rest of us.

Maybe what we should be getting more of is fed up. Fed up with a system that is destroying things and upsetting a balanced existence that has nurtured our species for tens of thousands of years. Governments push growth because those who back them, corporations, unions, you name it, want it, and very few want to hear that they can't have more. Maybe it is time that they start hearing a different message. Maybe what we really need more of is equality.

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