William Shatner beams in to save salmon

William Shatner wants wild B.C. salmon to live long and prosper, and he hopes the West Coast fishing industry won’t be reduced to a search for stock due to contamination from open-net salmon farms.

The iconic Canadian actor recently lent his weight to a private member’s bill, Bill C-518, introduced in Ottawa early last month by New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly that would ban open nets along the B.C. coast and force fish farm enterprises to adopt closed-containment systems.

Make it so: Fin Donnelly doesn’t want to see the salmon fisheries industry become a search for stock. (Larry Wright photo)

Donnelly, the federal NDP Fisheries and Oceans critic, is hoping the celebrity endorsement will prompt Canadians to sign up for his national postcard campaign to help his motion pass. Private member’s bills generally have an abysmal track record when it comes to becoming signed into law, but Donnelly is optimistic that if enough citizens send in postage-free postcards supporting the proposed amendment to the Fisheries Act, the federal Conservatives might be forced into action.

The campaign was announced at a press conference Monday morning at the Fraser River Discovery Centre. Although Shatner had been in Vancouver over the weekend for a Star Trek convention, he wasn’t able to make the trek to New West as he had already made the voyage home.

Instead, the 79-year-old actor was beamed on screen to give a heartfelt plea to Canadians to save wild salmon by pressuring government representatives.

“The British Columbia, especially the Fraser River, salmon are dying,” he said in a short video also available on YouTube. “It is fixable. Experts believe it is a result of the parasitic lice coming from the farmed salmon that are in the same waterways as the wild salmon. This lice is passed onto the young salmon as they go out to the ocean and they die. … Please join me in saving the salmon by signing the postcards and send them to your representative. Together, we can win this fight.”

“Wild salmon are integral to British Columbia’s environment, economy and culture” said Donnelly. “I don’t want Pacific salmon to go the way of the Atlantic cod.”

Last year, the Harper government ordered a federal commission to examine the collapse of sockeye salmon stocks after just one-tenth of an estimated 10.5 million sockeye returned to the Fraser River.

The commission, headed by B.C. Supreme Court Judge Bruce Cohen, is examining the possible impacts of farmed fish on wild salmon, but many critics fear findings are already conclusive and there is no time to waste in enacting new legislation.

Shatner gained personal experience with the problem a few years ago when he went fishing after filming an episode of the TV drama Boston Legal on Vancouver Island.

Shatner’s character, Denny Crane, travelled to B.C. to go fly fishing but learned the wild salmon population was under attack because of fish farms. Donnelly’s bill would see the transition from open nets to closed-containment systems within five years of Bill C-518 becoming law.

Closed containment systems would provide a permanent barrier, rather than the porous open-net pens that are the industry standard, to prevent commercially farmed salmon from escaping into the ocean and spreading disease, particularly sea lice that cling on to fish. The proposed bill would also require federal fisheries minister Gail Shea to develop a transition plan within 18 months that would protect all industry jobs.

(This story was first published June 30, 2010. © Copyright (c) New West Record)

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