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Salmon farmers swarm social media to blast Trudeau ahead of election

Social media has been lit ablaze with comments on both sides of the issue, but the BC Salmon Farmers has been the most assertive in attacking Canada's Liberal party and its potentially devastating impact on the region's economy.

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Heather Clarke never planned on a picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holding her infant daughter becoming part of an intense political battle over phasing out netpen salmon farming in Canada.

But an Oct. 2 post on Facebook caught fire, and is one of several social media campaigns being launched by the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) in opposition to Trudeau's Liberal Party claiming they intend to phase out netpen salmon farming in BC by 2025, and shift to "closed containment" operations.

In the post, Trudeau engages in the well-trod political ritual of baby kissing. But, like recent photos of Trudeau, this one is coming back to haunt him.

"That baby girl is now the poster child for BC Salmon Farmers Association," Clarke wrote.

In the post, Clarke shames Trudeau for the party's proposed netpen ban, and notes how the move would impact BC communities.

Nearly four years ago, Clarke and her husband started Poseideon Ocean Systems in Campbell River in British Columbia, with an aim to provide Canada-specific technology to the salmon farming industry. Today she said her business has been happily thriving in BC, where she is also a member of BCSFA.

Clarke told IntraFish she met Trudeau coincidentally while getting ready to board a plane to attend the Norwegian aquaculture show AquaNor in 2015.

"I wanted to draw attention to a guy who was ever so happy to take photos with children and pretend he cares about their future," she said of why she posted the photo, and her own experience with the consequences of the party's plan.

Though the image of the salmon farming sector is not necessarily positive among the broader province, on the ground it can be a much different story. For example, companies such as Mowi Canada West, Grieg Seafood BC and Cermaq Canada sponsor her daughter's the little league and soccer programs. They employ parents of her daughter's friends. Workers at salmon farming companies are friends and neighbors. The effect of not having them around would be devastating to a remote, coastal community like Campbell River, she said.

A loss of economic stability

Salmon farming provides Campbell River with a sense of stability it hasn't found through other industries that provide employment in the region, Clarke said.

"We have a lot of exposure to forestry, commercial fishing, and oil and gas, all which can fluctuate depending on market conditions," she said.

"Aquaculture has been consistent. The producers have been able to donate to a wide a variety of local charities and programs. They pay their municipal taxes, and are consistently able to pay employees, who in turn can pay their own mortgages."

Phasing out netpen salmon farming would in all likelihood mean an end to her family's business.

"We've spent a tremendous amount of resources investing in new technology for ocean-based farming," she said. "If our industry were forced to move to RAS (recirculating aquaculture system) facilities, it would be devastating for us. All of the investments we've made over the last four years would be lost."

Clarke also said BC aquaculture companies are likely to locate elsewhere rather than fit into a unrealistic timeline of changing over to closed-containment systems, which have not achieved large-scale commercial success in raising salmon.

"I don't think the technology is there," she said.

The opinion was echoed by aquaculture associations who came out against the Liberal Party decision last week.

A call to action

BCSFA Executive Director John Paul Fraser, who has used Clarke's Facebook post and had staff create social media videos highlighting the impact on the region, told IntraFish Clarke's story spoke to him because it showed how business owners such as herself have been duped by the Liberal party in the name of politics.

"This commitment was nothing more than a ridiculous game of chess where our industry got thrown overboard for seats in Vancouver," he told IntraFish.

"It's not about these communities where jobs are so important, it's about votes in communities where they aren't. Putting the local community and indigenous jobs at risk is part of a political game. Companies like Heather's have been duped."

BCSFA has taken to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, gathering up likes, shares and trying to rally salmon farming-dependent communities and sympathizers to speak out.

"Heather's Facebook post continues to go viral on North Vancouver Island. Her family is one of nearly 7,000 with their livelihoods now on the line," the group wrote on LinkedIn.

On the string of comments were other aquaculture industry workers, some of whom posted pictures of their own children.

"Yes! My job out on a sea site supported my family-in-the-making when this little guy was in my belly," said one commenter. "I have also supported my family by raising salmon at sea while carrying our second baby who is due any day now. We are just one of the thousands of families this would effect."

Clarke has not heard any response from Trudeau or Canada's Liberal party regarding her post, but does feel the impacts of the Liberal's proposal in her daily life.

"It has impacted the attitudes and energies of our staff," she said, noting everyone in Campbell River is on edge about what will happen with the election only weeks away," she said. "It's so frustrating, even if they (the Liberal party) don't follow through with it, they've added legitimacy to the opposition."

The opposition, meanwhile, have their own formidable social media presence, and is fighting equally as hard to get their chosen candidate in. With the race neck-and-neck in some polls, who that will be will remain a mystery until Oct. 21, when the election is held.

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