A key aquaculture industry spokesperson has asked the provincial New Democrats' agriculture and lands critic to reconsider throwing a welcome celebration for a prominent fish farm opponent, expressing surprise the party is taking place at the MLA's non-partisan, taxpayer-funded constituency office. But the critic, Lana Popham, has said she's just promoting a community event, offering to host a similar party for an aquaculture company.
At issue is biologist Alexandra Morton's Vancouver Island walk to draw attention to her campaign against open-net fish farms.
Ms. Morton is scheduled to conclude that walk in Victoria on May 8, with her route going past Ms. Popham's constituency office. So the New Democrat MLA has invited constituents to come to the office, enjoy some refreshments and join the biologist on her way to the legislature.
"Alexandra Morton is a powerful voice speaking out against industrial aquaculture and its harmful effects on wild salmon," Ms. Popham enthused in a posting on her blog. "Her goal is ensure that our wild BC salmon does not end up like the destroyed Atlantic Cod stocks - but instead that the wild stocks are a vibrant part a healthy ecosystem."
But Mary Ellen Walling was less enthusiastic about that party.
In an email to the New Democrat MLA, the BC Salmon Farmers Association executive director wrote, "I was surprised and frankly disappointed to see that you are publically (sic) taking sides on this issue. I really felt that after your tour and meeting with our farm staff that you had a much better understanding of salmon farming and had broadened your perspectives somewhat."
"As you know we very much agree that wild salmon are very important and need to be protected - but there are a multitude of factors that are contributing to issues facing them. Supporting this focus on the removal of salmon farms is shortsighted and misguided," Ms. Walling continued, adding she was "also surprised to see that you are organizing this event out of your constituency office, at taxpayer expense."
The fish farm spokesperson's email concluded by asking Ms. Popham to "reconsider your direct sponsorship of this event."
But it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
"I understand their complaint," the MLA told Public Eye. "But my community office is open to anyone in the community or anybody who wants to hold an event. So actually Marine Harvest is very welcome to come and do an event in my office as well."
Describing her celebration for Ms. Morton as a "community response" not a "partisan event," Ms. Popham noted the biologist's walk is "coming right by my office. So it's a bit of a pitstop. And, as far as the coffee and the tea, I offer that all the time to anyone who comes in."
As for her what her own view is on fish farming, the MLA said, "I have my own personal beliefs. But as an MLA and as somebody who is working as a critic, I am always open to more information. That's what I'm going to see them tomorrow morning" - referring to her upcoming tour of Marine Harvest Canada's Quadra Island operation with federal New Democrat parliamentarian Fin Donnelly.
The following is a complete copy of Ms. Walling's email.
From: Mary Ellen Walling
Sent: Thursday, April 22, 2010 2:12 PM
Cc: 'Backman, Clare'; 'Roberts, Ian'; 'Laurie.Jensen@mainstreamcanada.com'; 'Mia Parker'; 'Colleen Dane'; 'email@example.com'; 'Karin.Maier@mainstreamcanada.com'
Subject: FW: Lana Popham invite to reception for Alexandra Morton
Hi Lana, I was surprised and frankly disappointed to see that you are publically taking sides on this issue. I really felt that after your tour and meeting with our farm staff that you had a much better understanding of salmon farming and had broadened your perspectives somewhat. As you know we very much agree that wild salmon are very important and need to be protected - but there are a multitude of factors that are contributing to issues facing them. Supporting this focus on the removal of salmon farms is shortsighted and misguided.
As we explained to you some months ago significant amounts of misinformation are being spread about the effect of salmon farms on wild salmon stocks. Studies show that Pacific salmon have developed a natural ability to resist sea lice damage and even shed them once they reach a certain size. Reports also show that sea lice numbers on wild salmon in areas away from farms are about the same, and sometimes more, than on wild fish in areas with farms.
I was also surprised to see that you are organizing this event out of your constituency office, at taxpayer's expense. I would urge you to review this testimony given by Ms Morton and Dr Sheppard at the Standing Committee -the links to the testimony are at the bottom of this page. http://www.marineharvestcanada.com/news042110_2.php.
I am asking that you reconsider your direct sponsorship of this event.
Mary Ellen Walling
BC Salmon Farmers Association