Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alexandra Morton, the DFO and "Wild Fish Councils"

Alexandra Morton is a self-taught biologist in BC's Broughton Archipelago, and the New York Times is right to cast her as a salmonid's Joan of Arc. Alex has been fighting provincial and federal bureaucracies and Norwegian salmon-farming corporations for most of the past 15 years. Now that the BC Supreme Court has found in her favour in her recent lawsuit, the provincial government has been cut out of the bureaucratic loop and the DFO appears to be the party responsible for regulating BC's salmon farms.

This is a huge victory in cutting through red tape and buck-passing. Assuming the province doesn't appeal the ruling, however, DFO watchers know it's still an open question if this will be good news for BC's wild salmon. To put it mildly, to date the DFO's Pacific Region Branch has not shown much conservationist leadership or good science on the salmon farming file, and in general the DFO seems to have done everything possible to obfuscate the truth about salmon farming's ill side effects (like sea-lice and disease).


Such bad faith may relate to the DFO's schizoid role as both a promoter and a regulator of aquaculture and what appears to be its historical raison d'etre: to lend an air of science-based credibility to decisions based on money, votes, and the reputation of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. (More on that by some leading lights in the days to come.)

Last week Alex wrote an open letter to the DFO Minister Gail Shea calling for local "wild fish councils" to manage salmon and other fish in Canada. Could this be the birth of a new paradigm?

It certainly could. In practice sticky, tricky, and as hot as a tea kettle, but that's how it should be when neighbours hash out the eternal problem of the commons.

We need less in the way of bureaucratic decrees-- given out by agencies who act as proxies for our short-term greed--and more face-to-face relationships, uncomfortable talks, and the natural precaution of people who love, and belong to, their Place.

As Alex writes:

'Keep everything locally managed. This could lead to problems, but we already have problems so this would not be new. IF everyone on the Council benefits from wild salmon AND lives in the community where the other economic activity exists we would see self-regulation, benefit to local communities, and economic activity to the benefit to BC and Canada.'

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