Shatner beams his way into salmon debate, wants BC fish to live long and prosper

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VANCOUVER — William Shatner wants British Columbia’s wild salmon to live long and prosper.

The Canadian icon, made famous for his work as Capt. James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” series, has waded into efforts to protect wild fish from sea lice.

B.C. aquaculture critics have long accused farmed fish of spreading parasites to wild stocks.

Fin Donnelly, the federal New Democrat Fisheries and Oceans critic, introduced a private member’s bill last month that would force fish farm operators to move from open nets along the B.C. coast to closed-containment systems.

Shatner joined Donnelly on a conference call Thursday in which he urged Canadians to prevent their precious resources from being destroyed.

“As a father and a grandfather (it’s my) wish that my offspring live to see the same things I did, the wildlife and the wilderness,” said Shatner, who dialled into the teleconference from Los Angeles.

Shatner, 79, said he gained personal experience with B.C. fish a few years ago when he did some filming on Vancouver Island and in the province’s interior.

“I learned and saw first-hand not only the beauty of British Columbia, but saw how and was lectured on how this basic species — salmon — feed and nurture not only the animals that are on the land but the sea as well,” he said.

In addition to his Star Trek work, Shatner played the role of lawyer Denny Crane on the TV drama “Boston Legal.”

In a 2005 episode, his character travelled to B.C. to go fly fishing but learned the wild salmon population was under attack from sea lice, courtesy of fish farms.

“My rage is against companies that have no conscience about what they’re doing and that the bottom line is the only thing they think of,” he said during the conference call.

“What we must do is ensure that the farmed salmon do not destroy the wild salmon.”

The Montreal-born Shatner did not take questions and conceded he hasn’t read Donnelly’s bill. He also said the technical aspects on how to preserve wild salmon are better left explained by others.

“My opinion is that anybody who’s trying to do something about as basic a species as salmon must be listened to,” he said of Donnelly’s bill.

Last year, Ottawa 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 B.C.’s Fraser River.

The commission, headed by B.C. Supreme Court Judge Bruce Cohen, has said it will examine the possible impacts of farmed fish on wild salmon.

Donnelly, member of Parliament for the B.C. riding of New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody, said he’s just thrilled to have Shatner on his side.

“His support demonstrates interest to see the federal government step up and deal with the threats to wild salmon before it is too late,” he said.

Donnelly’s bill would see the transition from open nets to closed-containment systems within five years of the bill becoming law.

Bill C-518 would also require the fisheries minister to develop a transition plan within 18 months that would protect all aquaculture industry jobs.

Ruth Salmon, executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said Shatner’s opposition to fish farms is “misguided.”

“Shatner’s a Hollywood actor, he’s not a fisheries scientist,” she said in an interview.

“The biggest factors affecting wild salmon decline are overfishing and development, logging, mining and changing ocean temperatures.”

Salmon added that a 2008 study of 40 closed-containment systems by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans failed to identify a method for successfully producing farmed Atlantic salmon. She said closed-containment systems are also synonymous with higher energy use and a larger carbon footprint.

“At this point in time, it really isn’t a viable option,” she said.

Shatner, who will star this fall in a Twitter-inspired comedy titled “(Bleep) My Dad Says,” has used the social networking site in the past to express his conservationist views.

An online campaign earlier this year called for Shatner to be named the country’s next governor general.

Shatner Tweeted soon after: “I’m being drafted by various groups to run for Governor General. Would they accept me if I campaign for salmons’ rights?”

Shatner and Donnelly were joined on the conference call by Chief Bob Chamberlain of B.C.’s Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation and marine biologist Alexandra Morton. Both Chamberlin and Morton have been vocal opponents of fish farms.

“Salmon represents a very clear, stable food for our people to help sustain a very diverse culture, which we have managed for thousands of years,” Chamberlin said.

“I want to call on (Fisheries and Oceans) Minister (Gail) Shea to embrace this private member’s bill, I want to call on Minister Shea to embrace the notion of closed-containment and make it a reality.”

Chamberlin said if Shea is unable to make such a decision, then she must resign.

Morton said since salmon-farm jurisdiction will move from the province of B.C. to the federal government later this year, following a court ruling, there’s a real opportunity to spark industry change.

Organizations: Supreme Court, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: B.C., Vancouver Island, British Columbia Los Angeles Montreal Ottawa Fraser River New Westminster-Coquitlam Port Moody Hollywood

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