Fish advocates in the Sea to Sky region took their concerns right to the top last week as they met with a House of Commons committee on fisheries in Campbell River.
They came to hear concerns from residents of the region about the impacts of salmon farming on fish stocks.
Dave Brown, vice-chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Committee, was invited by Sea to Sky MP John Weston to speak to a Commons committee comprised of himself, as well as MP's Randy Kamp and Fin Donnelly.
Brown, speaking on behalf of the sportfish advisory committee, said he gave a five-minute presentation in which he outlined the group's concerns about protection of wild salmon.
"Our committee, we're looking at it as there's an opportunity there for protection of wild salmon, reducing impacts that are caused by open net salmon farming, with sea lice and transfer of potential disease," he said.
"What we were pushing forward was for Canadian salmon farmers to be world leaders in land-based salmon farming, or even ocean-based but closed contained."
The end goal of the Sportfish Advisory Committee's work is that the Government of Canada, which is taking over regulation of Canada's aquaculture industry through Fisheries Canada next month, introduce stricter regulations of fish farms and create incentives for companies to either use land-based or closed containment methods for raising fish.
Fish farms are often fingered as the cause of millions of fish disappearing from the Fraser River run in 2009, only to show up a year later for reasons that experts are at pains to explain.
The House of Commons committee is nevertheless listening to ideas on what it can do to maintain what advocates say are delicate fish populations that are taking a big hit from sea lice - a result, they say, of minimally regulated fish farms along the coast of British Columbia.
Testifying before the committee, Brown asked the federal government to make a "substantial contribution" to establishing a closed containment fund to "foster innovation and the advancement of new, economically viable technologies and pilot projects." Industry members, he said, are supportive of closed containment but they need help from governments to make it happen.
Farmed salmon, Brown said, is B.C.'s single largest agricultural product, generating $338 million a year in revenue and employing 2,100 people - though not always from the communities where they're located.
MPs then asked Brown how to make it cost effective and identify demand for greener products in the industry.
"What I tried to reiterate is, we have a potential solution here," Brown said. "Yes, there's going to be costs associated, but we could become a world leader in protecting our wild salmon and at the same time support our industry that is growing and increase demand for sustainable seafood."
Weston, speaking briefly with Pique before he had to go into the House of Commons for a vote, said the committee will now take Brown's recommendations and those of others it spoke to in Campbell River and prepare a report for the Minister of Fisheries.
Asked what progress the government is making towards stricter regulation of the aquaculture industry, he said it is exploring the possibility of closed containment, enough that the committee is visiting a facility in Olympia, Washington next week.
"Certainly, closed containment got a really good exposure to the eight members of the committee," Weston said.