Christopher Mitchelmore, the NDP MHA for the Straits-White Bay North was in the Coast of Bays area during the week of July 16 to 20 as part of his Orange Tent Tour which he is taking this summer to learn more about the province's traditional fishery and the aquaculture industry.
Mitchelmore is visiting areas such as Fogo Island, the Coast of Bays and Bonne Bay, and other regions of the province, that have a strong connection to fisheries and aquaculture.
"I launched my tour back in May," he said, "to get out and meet with stakeholders in the province's fisheries. As I only have an understanding of the province's mussel industry, I especially wanted to visit the Coast of Bays to view first hand the new aquaculture industry and to talk to the people involved in the important economic activity for this area."
On his visit to Harbour Breton on July 17, Mitchelmore took time out from his schedule to talk about the ISA case that has dominated the province's fishery news in the past two weeks or so.
He said, "People need to understand that ISA is something that occurs naturally in the wild. We've seen it in other jurisdictions such as Chile and Scotland and stakeholders in these places found ways to deal with it.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there about this issue especially about the food safety of ISA infected fish. I mean even consuming fish with ISA is safe according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
"The NDP has said from the beginning of this incident that we have to get the affected fish out of the water as soon as possible. As far as I understand the situation, Minister King had the authority under the new provincial Aquaculture Act to call for a cull on the fish involved.
"However, when the CFIA became involved they took the lead role and, because the federal government is dealing with the issue, the province has to deal with their protocols and procedures.
"This ISA issue is not a good situation but at least we're seeing that it is being contained and that the site was quarantined. However, the longer we leave the fish in the water the more we're putting the overall industry at risk.
"We want to get those fish out of the water and the industry wants to get them out as quickly as possible too. Ultimately a cull needs to happen but we need to make sure that when we pull the fish out we are not contaminating any of the other sites in the area. You just can't take fish out of the water without a contingency plan, as you need to dispose of them properly to prevent such problems as leeching. The last thing we want to do is pose a risk at possibly destroying a $100 million industry and put hundreds of jobs at risk.
MHA Mitchelmore said that the province and the industry need to develop a contingency plan for this type of problem in case it should happen again.
"Although we have a well developed industry, there are still plans to work out and rules need to be in play should this problem recur. We have an industry working without having an appropriate plan to deal with a disaster. It's kind of like putting the cart before the horse without having a contingency plan to deal with a problem like this."
The MHA said that the ISA problem does not mean the end of the industry by any stretch of the imagination.
"I think Mr. King and his officials can learn from this situation to ensure that a ISA contingency plan is put in place. As a matter of fact, I think it was something that was being worked on but it wasn’t finalized and formalized because we've never been there before.
"While every jurisdiction seems to work on this problem a little bit differently, we need to see Minister King really taking a leadership role here and work with his federal counterparts to ensure that, should something like this happen again, there will be clear guidelines and timelines as to how we deal with the situation. This is the biggest challenge the industry has faced to this point and one that, obviously, has to be addressed very seriously.
"I sincerely believe that the expertise we have on the ground is going to learn from this situation and I can assure you that the NDP will be pressuring the DFA people to work in conjunction with CFIA officials to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to deal with any situation like this in the future. Again, we need to get the fish out of the water, reduce the animosity from other industry players and move on from here."
Mitchelmore said that it's extremely important that plans are in place to deal with a possible outbreak of ISA.
"A problem like ISA has the potential to destroy an industry rather quickly that took years to build and now has created hundreds of direct and indirect jobs. You see such an optimistic, positive outlook in this area now; you have families with dual incomes, communities with new industry and jobs related to the industry. The outlook for the aquaculture here, and the traditional fishery, is very positive so we need to get over this and to move on to the next phase of the industry."