The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Rotten. From the Head Down.

The B.C. government's relationship with salmon farmers

Former BC fisheries minister John van Dongen's fight to clear his name got a lot tougher after yesterday's CBC News: Disclosure broadcast. Van Dongen resigned his post as minister responsible for agriculture and fisheries last week after the RCMP began an investigation into his handling of a fish-farming file. Now, more details are coming about just what it was that van Dongen did to warrant a probe into the job he was doing as Cabinet minister.

When the B.C. Liberals came to power in May 2001, they did so on a platform of being friendlier to business than the previous NDP regime. Part of that platform included a review of a 1995 moratorium on the approval of new salmon farming licences. The NDP had imposed the moratorium following pressure from environmentalists and from commercial fishermen* who make their living from catching wild Pacific salmon. Last year's decision to lift the moratorium brought praise from the aquaculture industry -- and scorn from those who fought for the ban on new farms.

The suspicion was that the Liberals, who received several large donations from aquaculture firms¹ in the lead-up to the 2001 election, would instruct the environment ministry to be less than strident in its monitoring of fish farms' impact on the environment. Those fears were well-founded, as it turns out. CBC News: Disclosure picks up the story.
Two and a half years ago, on a farm near Vancouver Island, more than 30,000 Atlantic salmon escaped through a tear in their net pen.
These foreign fish are seen as a threat to the fragile Pacific salmon stocks. Releasing them into the wild would see companies slapped with a fine.
To be precise, the escape occurred in August of 2000, when the NDP were still in government. As such, the investigation began under the NDP's watch. The conservation officers that were investigating the escape of the Atlantic salmon were not political appointees, and continued to work at the environment ministry, renamed "Water, Land, and Air Protection," following the change in government. It was the fisheries ministry, headed by John van Dongen, that wanted to end the investigation and essentially let the company responsible for the escape off scot-free.
The salmon escaped from a farm owned by Stolt-Neilsen, a Norwegian conglomerate- and with 30 farms - the biggest player on the Pacific Coast.
Stolt-Neilsen's subsidiary that operates fish farms in BC, Stolt Sea Farm, gave $10,942.11 to the B.C. Liberal Party in four separate contributions between December 21, 2000 and April 6, 2001. Interesting timing, to say the least: after the escape of the 30,000 Atlantics, but before an election that the B.C. Liberals were sure to win.

Stolt's pressure on the ministries that were responsible for overseeing its operations were successful -- sort of. The environment ministry dropped the case after pressure from the ministers lead to the case against Stolt being "significantly compromised." The fact that the CBC had filed the freedom of information requests to get the documents related to the government's handling of the Stolt file tipped off government lawyers to engage a special investigation into just what van Dongen was doing to influence the case against Stolt. Thus, the investigation, and van Dongen's resignation. It just gets worse from there: sources tell the CBC that van Dongen tipped off Stolt about how forcefully enforcement officers in the environment ministry wanted to pursue the case.

Stan Hagen, who was appointed van Dongen's replacement as fisheries minister, accepted $5,000 in campaign contributions from companies that were suppliers to the aquaculture industry. Hagen has said that he will distance himself from any files relating to those companies, but the suspicion of Hagen's ability to act impartially remains. Even Province columnist Mike Smyth, who is more generous to the Liberals than most commentators in this province, wrote that premier Gordon Campbell should appoint a minister with no financial ties to the aquaculture trade.

UPDATE: Stan Hagen has said that he knew nothing of the events that led to John van Dongen's resignation, although Stolt lobbied Hagen about the investigation into its operations. .

No wonder that aquaculture expert Lynn Hunter, who was a federal Member of Parliament from 1988-93, called the provincial government a public relations arm of the fish-farming industry.

Any way you slice it, this is not the picture of good, impartial governance. It's one thing for a business-friendly government to enact rules that promote the growth of industry and that remove barriers to doing business. That's what people who vote for pro-business parties want.

Trying to squash the enforcement of laws that are on the books crosses the line. If a government thinks that there should be little or no regulation of fish farming, then repeal the rules that seem to get in the way of the industry. The ones who will complain the loudest are those who are least likely to vote for a business-friendly party. Putting up the smokescreen of having tough laws and then ensuring that those laws are not enforced by interfering with the work of inspectors is unethical and dishonest.

Learn more:

The story that may have set off the investigation:
CBC News: Disclosure: Fish Farm Flap web feature
'Fish Farm Flap': Segment 1 Segment 2

For those who are interested, the Disclosure broadcast will be repeated on CBC Newsworld on Friday, February 7th at 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM PST, and once more on Sunday, February 9th at 11:00 AM PST.

Vancouver Province: Dispute over pressing fish-farm charge behind probe of Van Dongen
Globe and Mail: B.C. too close to fish-farming industry, critics say
CBC British Columbia: New allegation in fish farm affair
CBC British Columbia: Fish farm critics take aim at Hagen
Rafe Mair's Fish File
Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council
David Suzuki Foundation: Fish Farming
B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association

*Yes, I use the term "fishermen." So do those who make their living from fishing. A "fisher" is a crack of some kind. So sue me.

¹You can find financial reports from Elections BC at The reports are scans of the paper documents filed by parties, candidates, recall proponents, riding associations, etc. As such they are not searchable, although the list of contributors is alphabetical. You will need Adobe Acrobat to view the files, which are as long as 700 pages and up to 13 MB in size. These reports are not for casual viewing!
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