Premier Tom Marshall delivered his inaugural speech on Jan. 24. I found him to be warm, happy and sincere; he smiled and I was hopeful for a new positive change in this premier.
After over one month in office, like many of the passionate people and outdoor conservationists in our great province say, it is time for him to act on those words. To quote a few powerful ideas from that opening speech:
‰ “I’m ready to give, along with my colleagues in the caucus and in the cabinet, our very best to the people of the province, which we all dearly love.”
‰ “What I will promise is my full attention, best judgment and tireless service.”
The people of this province really need someone to walk their talk, and not just talk about “doing what is for the best interest of the province” as has been overstated in the recent past. There is one immediate growing concern relating to this opening speech that takes real leadership to fix, and it must be fixed now before it is too late.
The scientific research from around the world on the wild Atlantic salmon stocks has stated one common fact: open-sea fish farms for Atlantic salmon aquaculture are detrimental to wild stocks. Period.
In some European countries, wild stocks were completely wiped out due to open-sea fish farming. The solution is quite simple here in Newfoundland and Labrador: remove all open-sea fish farms and put these on land where the system can be controlled, much like the control measures that cattle farmers must ensure with their livestock.
Aquaculture has its place. Many of the people rising up and speaking out against current open-sea aquaculture measures are not saying to ban the entire investment; they are saying put the whole salmon farming industry on land and help save our oceans, our aquatic food chains and our wild Atlantic salmon.
Marshall has delivered five budgets, so as a finance veteran he understands what is happening financially in the aquaculture world. In this province, there is obviously too much money being wasted on open-sea fish farming and the return on investment does not make sense.
Many decision-makers have not done what is right, nor are they doing the right thing in terms of aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador. This takes leadership now, not politics.
Politics and finance are in the way of saving such a mystical part of our proud heritage, one that the premier’s father helped fight for as a war veteran. The ironic thing: politics and finance could be an ally when the right decision is made to save our wild Atlantic salmon stocks.
My grandfather and his father were commercial fishermen of Atlantic salmon back in their day. I am 100 per cent certain that they, like the premier’s father, are rolling over in their graves right now, totally disgusted and saddened at the way the decision makers have handled the situation with Newfoundland and Labrador’s Atlantic salmon aquaculture.
The premier’s foundation and his parents’ “foundation in the bedrock of Humber East” contain some of the greatest wild Atlantic salmon fly-fishing and tourism in the world. The mega millions, both directly and indirectly, pumped annually into the Newfoundland and Labrador treasury by the wild Atlantic salmon is quite significant.
Further, the taxes from these commodities combined with the spin-offs to local businesses and the hiring of employees is an economic and cultural part of our province, especially in rural areas. More significant is the intrinsic value of the wild Atlantic salmon.
Value is priceless while the money/finance/economic piece of the salmon equation is only a small portion of real “value.”
Newfoundland and Labrador, being one of the last heavens on Earth, has nature as her ally, offering tourists and residents the same opportunity of serenity, tranquility, clean air, clean water, a place to enjoy our great outdoors, while simultaneously recharging one’s life batteries. It is work-life balance and tourism perfection at its finest.
Marshall states his motto as quoted in Deuteronomy, relating the words of Moses: in setting the highest standards to all who serve in public office, “justice shall you pursue.”
This hopefully means that the premier will give our wild Atlantic salmon stocks the justice they deserve. Someone has to speak up for these fish, the wild Atlantic salmon or “King of the Sea,” as they are called. These wild salmon have no voice amid the destructive open-sea engines of the aquaculture industry that are wreaking havoc in our pristine ocean waters.
I agree with Premier Marshall: “it is impossible not to be passionate when we consider our people and our history and how far we have already come.” These issues combined with the unprecedented amounts of investment, subsidies and compensation given to the aquaculture industry each year, is not the best investment for Newfoundland and Labrador. Our bays, our health, our wild fishery and our ecosystems are too precious to pass over to those people currently in open-sea fish farming who do not care nor understand real value and cultural authenticity.
The scientific research is evident for Premier Marshall to remove open-sea fish farms from our waters completely. Government policy must follow science as stated in the current provincial government’s Blue Book. The federal government cutbacks have muzzled hard core scientific facts and this may be because they have a different agenda for aquaculture and our renewable natural resources in this province.
To dig a little deeper, open-sea salmon farming will not save the economy in rural Newfoundland and Labrador as it currently exists.
Aquaculture adds money to a few businesses that, in turn, provide a few low to medium paying jobs, but open-sea aquaculture destroys real resource value. That value in our oceans cannot be purchased, especially after it has been destroyed. Common sense tells us that the whole food chain is currently being affected and this will soon spiral into other species.
Lobsters, being bottom feeders, for example, are surely eating the byproducts and waste from the farmed fish that ends up on the ocean floor.
It may not be long before this species will also be significantly impacted. There are better solutions for the economy in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. If the money is there for aquaculture bailouts, then this money is better spent with long term thinking in mind: put the open-sea salmon pens/farms on land.
Here are the solutions for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador regarding aquaculture:
‰ Remove all open-sea salmon fish farms/pens completely, from all of our precious bays and Atlantic Ocean, surrounding Newfoundland and Labrador.
‰ Put these fish pens on land to protect our wild Atlantic salmon stocks (and what we have left in this wild fish resource, before it is too late). This is the only win/win/win; a win for the people, a win for the aquaculture industry both short and long term and, most importantly, a win for the future generations yet to come.
In closing, I wish to add one idea from the New Testament as many have lately quoted the ancient book of life philosophy: “The truth shall make us free.”
This truth is backed by science. To date, this truth has been ignored by politics and economics. Now is the time for Marshall and his best possible leadership to get it right and do “justice that must be pursued.”
We owe it to our past and future generations to preserve our wild Atlantic salmon stocks, starting right now.
Paul Michael White lives in St. John’s.