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Leonardo DiCaprio criticizes Ottawa over B.C. salmon farms

Salmon farms have long been a point of contention between environmentalists and fish farmers in British Columbia, but a much bigger net is now being cast on the topic.

An Instagram post made by Oscar-winning actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio is calling out the Canadian government.

His social media post claimed Ottawa is “considering extending the licences for open-net pen salmon farms in British Columbia by up to six months.”

His spotlight on Canada’s fishing practices is being praised by one local First Nations group.

“We need as many Canadians to understand what’s at stake right now and if someone like Leonardo DiCaprio can assist us in that. It’s very, very welcomed of course,” said Bob “Galagame” Chamberlin, the chair of First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance.

His organization gained thousands of new followers online following DiCaprio’s post.

Open net-pen salmon farms have been accused of propagating diseases such as sea lice that can affect wild salmon populations.

The Canadian government is pushing back on the Hollywood actor’s claim.

“Our government remains committed to work on a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025,” the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans told CTV News in a statement.

“We continue to work on a responsible transition plan that protects Pacific salmon, while supporting workers and their communities.”

But Chamberlin says the word “transition” is misleading.

CTV News obtained a copy of a letter sent to local municipalities that says the federal government is consulting on a license duration of between two to six years.

“If the DFO is looking to reissue all the fish farming licences for two to six years, it certainly is not going to enhance the consultation that is going on in the transition planning,” Chamberlin said. “It’s going to undermine it.”

DiCaprio’s post is being called “irresponsible” by one local salmon farming advocate.

“Our companies would love to invite Mr. DiCaprio to come up to Canada and actually see for himself on the ground rather than making baseless claims over his giant platform,” said Brian Kingzett, the executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

He says many First Nations groups are in support of keeping open net-pen salmon farming.

“Mr. DiCaprio, while I have a lot of respect for what he does… he has never visited a salmon farm, has never met any of the Indigenous communities that we support and employ, who have environmental stewardship over our farms, so it’s really disappointing,” he said.

Kingzett says the sector needs the licences to be extended for six more years for sustainability.

“We will need an entire ocean’s worth of seafood to supply ourselves and the only way we can do that is figure out how to responsibly farm, just like we do on land, so we’re continuing to innovate.”

Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier says she continues to work with both stakeholders and First Nation communities, as well as the B.C. government, on the next steps.

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