Winning the Salmon Wars
A friend writes me to say he's discouraged about the net-pen aquaculture contretemps. I reply:
I actually think we're winning. When I wrote my original column in early 2011, it was to comment on the odd fact that this industry, which is so controversial elsewhere, seemed to be sliding along below the radar in NS. Well, that's certainly not true any more. The opponents of net-pens have developed an enormous amount of momentum; the issue has clearly become a significant public concern.
Now we have the Premier writing letters to the editor to defend himself, and ripping strips off citizen groups in Sheet Harbour. (You can read about this astonishing episode on the Facebook site of the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore.) What confident, astute politician would behave that way? What level of fury and desperation does it indicate? And while all this is going on, Cooke Aquaculture keeps shooting the government in the foot — spin-doctoring, making PR blunders and being obliged to kill infected fish in various locations. Now people are becoming aware (a) that the federal government commonly pays millions of dollars in compensation for those losses, and (b) that this infected fish — "not harmful to humans" — may be worming its way, unannounced, onto the supermarket shelves. And the price of farmed salmon is crashing; it's $3.99/lb in Halifax today, which implies a wholesale price that has to be below production cost.
Our documentary, Salmon Wars — which you can stream elsewhere on this site — is being shown all over the Nova Scotia, and to general acclaim. The papers are full of letters opposing net-pen aquaculture, and this huge coalition — 116 citizen groups — has emerged from the grassroots. Every Nova Scotia MLA has now received a copy of Salmon Wars, and we know that NDP backbenchers are feeling increasingly restless and exposed. Safeway, Overwaitea and Target supermarkets out west won't sell farmed salmon, and Sobeys and Loblaws are feeling the pressure.
And the harder the industry and the government fight back, the worse they look. It must be a nightmare for them, as the Premier's over-the-top reaction signifies.
Not bad for a rag-tag cluster of citizen groups fuelled mainly by passion.