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Two books up for honours

When they open the envelope at the Lieutenant Governor's B.C. Book Prizes gala in Vancouver tomorrow night (April 30), there are two excellent chances that Sunshine Coast authors will take home honours.

When they open the envelope at the Lieutenant Governor's B.C. Book Prizes gala in Vancouver tomorrow night (April 30), there are two excellent chances that Sunshine Coast authors will take home honours.

A Stain Upon the Sea - West Coast Salmon Farming (Harbour Publishing), by various authors, includes a co-authored article from Sechelt's Betty C. Keller and Rosella M. Leslie. It has been nominated for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. Also nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize is A Man in a Distant Field by Pender Harbour author and poet Theresa Kishkan (published by the Dundurn Group).

A Stain Upon the Sea is a collection of articles (with preface by David Suzuki) unabashedly in opposition to salmon farming. The book documents again and again the grim underbelly of the industry using horror stories of sea lice epidemics, disease, hormones, selective breeding and farm salmon escapees who mix with wild salmon. Fish farmers are given one chance to answer critics in five short paragraphs on page 65. This book is not for them. The authors are persuasive: Vancouver Sun columnist Stephen Hume is at his narrative best in a lengthy piece, Fishing For Answers, in which he describes how, in 2002, the province's $600 million salmon farming industry was accused of playing a crucial role in the disappearance of between 3.5 and 5 million wild salmon.

Alexandra Morton, whale researcher, gives perhaps one of the more heartfelt accounts in her article Dying of Salmon Farming.

She tells how she was pleased when she first saw fish farmers setting up in Broughton Archipelago, thinking that this new industry would attract families and be an economic boost. Over a period of years she watched a program of government betrayal that allowed licences for fish farms in environmentally sensitive areas. She also saw disease, a decline in wild salmon and the start of underwater noise harassment that drove away fish eating seals, along with her beloved whales. But it is up to authors Keller and Leslie to provide the damning facts and to use the Sunshine Coast as a case study of farming gone awry. In their essay Sea-Silver, A Brief History of British Columbia's Salmon Farming Industry (drawn from their 1995 book Sea Silver) they document history and conditions within the industry. "In 1989 there were 185 small salmon farms in B.C. waters operated by more than 100 companies; by 1993, as a result of storms, disease, algal blooms and rock-bottom salmon prices, these numbers had shrunk to 80 farms operated by 17 companies."

The industry's focus had shifted from the Coast to the north's cooler waters. At least one salmon farm still operates on the Sunshine Coast that Keller knows of and it stays, for the most part, off the environmentalists' radar. Nonetheless, fish farming worldwide is a fast growing sector of the aquaculture industry. In a subsequent discussion with Keller, she points to the government regulatory agencies as the culprit from beginning to end. "Their budget has been slashed," she says, "and they can't control it (farming)."

Keller's comments tie in with former civil servant Otto Langer's essay, Any Fish is a Good Fish, in which he chronicles problems with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Kishkan's novel, A Man in a Distant Field, is the story of searching for one's home. It describes the gentle progress of an Irish man, Declan O'Malley, a young husband who suffered a terrible tragedy in Delphi, Ireland in 1922. He drags his heartsick soul to the west coast of Canada to settle briefly in the wilds of Oyster Bay, Pender Harbour. As a former teacher, he can't resist finding a pupil in the young Rose who has not been allowed to go to the local school by her brutish father. Together, the unlikely duo work their way through the Greek story of Odysseus, a man who also left his home in search of many things but is best remembered for his homecoming. When O'Malley finally returns to his own roots, he finds a troubled Ireland, along with the peace he has been seeking.

The book sings with Kishkan's trademark lyrical prose. The description of the tide pulling over the mud flats of Oyster Bay, the journeys in traditional canoe with the west coast Indians that befriend O'Malley, the taste of fresh halibut over the campfire, the green and floral byways of Ireland, the smell of the turf shed in O'Malley's burned out house, the chime of a singed harp. It is vivid and compelling literature.