05/11/2013 02:42 EDT | Updated 07/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Salmon farm foes want answers from NDP's Dix after handing him petition

COQUITLAM, B.C. - Salmon farming opponents in British Columbia were disappointed on Saturday that they didn't hook New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix with a petition to stop open-net salmon farming on the province's coast.

First Nations elder Eddie Gardner, who was part of a group of salmon farming opponents who greeted Dix with an enthusiastic drum-pounding salute, said he was disappointed the NDP leader didn't make a statement of support after accepting the 68,602-name petition, but said he was still willing to work with what he called "the government-in-waiting."

Dix's New Democrats enter the last weekend of the May 14 election campaign with what some polls suggest is a nine-point lead over the B.C. Liberals, who have been in government for a dozen years.

When the campaign started last month, Dix's New Democrats were believed to have a 17-point margin over the Liberals, but the race has tightened.

"As a government in waiting we have a petition to present to you," said Gardner about the call to end what fish farming opponents have called industrial salmon feed lots they believe spread viruses that harm wild salmon stocks.

"I was hoping he would respond to the petition with some comments, but he didn't," Gardner said following Dix's pancake breakfast campaign stop in Coquitlam, in Metro Vancouver. "It wasn't the time for him to do it. I suppose he had to take stock of the petition."

Gardner said the petition is a powerful statement of opposition from many in B.C.

"Hopefully, the NDP party will take a stand as a party and do the right thing and get the open net feed lots out of the coast," he said. "It's a dominant issue and it has a powerful impact on all British Columbians."

Dix said much of the jurisdiction the B.C. government has over fish farming now is under the control of the federal government, but the NDP's campaign platform calls for support for sustainable fisheries and responsible aquaculture.

The NDP platform says an NDP government will work to protect wild salmon stocks.

"I'm happy to get the petition and to take it in," Dix said at a new conference following his Coquitlam campaign speech. "What I'd say to everybody is if they want a government that's going to protect our coast, then that needs to be an NDP government."

Dix said he intends to work with the federal government on the recommendations of the recent Cohen report on the collapse of B.C. salmon stocks.

In March, the Liberal government said it accepted — or accepted the intent of — the recommendations made by the Cohen commission, which investigated the collapse of the Fraser River salmon fishery in 2009.

The government also said it has no intention of approving any new agreements for net-pen salmon farms near the Discovery Islands.

One of the Cohen recommendations was a freeze on net-pen salmon production in B.C.'s Broughton archipelago.

Critics had claimed lice infestations in the Broughton archipelago wiped out sockeye smolts, but after 138 days of hearings, the Cohen commission found no single reason for the collapse.