Fisheries Department says it will close 15 salmon farms off BC’s coast to protect wild fish

The federal government will not renew licenses for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms around British Columbia's Discovery Islands, Fisheries Secretary Joyce Murray said.  (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press - photo credit)

The federal government will not renew licenses for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms around British Columbia’s Discovery Islands, Fisheries Secretary Joyce Murray said. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press – photo credit)

Fisheries Secretary Joyce Murray has announced that the federal government will not renew licenses for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms around British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Murray says in a news release that the Discovery Islands area is an important migratory route for wild salmon, where narrow passages bring migrating juvenile salmon into close contact with the farms.

She says the latest scientific evidence points to uncertainty about the risks that the farms pose to wild salmon, and the government has committed to developing a responsible plan for the transition from free-range farming in BC’s coastal waters.

Open fish farms off the BC coast have been a major flashpoint, with environmental groups and some Indigenous nations saying the farms are linked to disease transmission to wild salmon, while the industry and some local politicians say thousands of jobs are at risk when they are operated are phased out.

“I have to consider the plight of wild salmon, which are in serious decline,” she said in an interview on Friday.

Consultation with First Nations

She said the decision came after extensive consultation with First Nations, industry and others, and that the department is taking a “highly precautionary” approach to managing salmon farming in the region.

Murray said she called First Nations and industry officials on Friday before announcing what she says is a difficult but necessary decision to protect wild salmon from the potential risks of farmed fish.

Jennifer Chrumka/CBC

Jennifer Chrumka/CBC

“There have been some assessments from DFO that indicate minimal risk, and since that main assessment there is also scientific evidence that suggests there may be a risk from viruses and sea lice from the farms,” ​​she said.

In the press release, she says there are several stressors affecting wild salmon, including climate change, habitat degradation, and both regulated and illegal fishing.

Murray’s letter of mandate from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked her with developing a plan to phase out open-net salmon farming in BC waters by 2025, while also working to introduce Canada’s first aquaculture law.

Fisheries and Oceans said last summer open-net salmon farms could continue operating during a consultation process currently underway, with the final plan to convert 79 farms expected to be released later in the year.

The federal government announced in December 2020 that it would phase out 19 Atlantic salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area of ​​Vancouver Island.

It also said that fish farm licenses would not be renewed.

Submitted by Alexandra Morton

Submitted by Alexandra Morton

Former British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last March, saying there was widespread concern that the federal government was ready to make a decision that would cut hundreds of jobs and the could threaten the economies of coastal communities.

Horgan called on the Prime Minister to provide assurances to the salmon farming sector that an appropriate transition program is implemented and that First Nations and communities economically dependent on fish farms are included.

Murray said the federal government is committed to developing a “responsible plan for the transition from open-air salmon farming in BC’s coastal waters.”

Fear of job loss

The BC Salmon Farmers Association said an economic analysis found the province could lose more than 4,700 jobs and up to $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if salmon farming licenses are not renewed.

It called Murray’s decision “devastating” for the coastal communities that depend on the aquaculture sector.

“Local communities have suffered since the decision to remove the farms was announced in 2020 and thanks to this willfully uninformed decision, announced earlier today, these communities will continue to experience negative socio-economic impacts from an outcome that is more likely based on politics as science,” said Brian Kingzett, the association’s executive director, in a statement.

Submitted by Mack Bartlett

Submitted by Mack Bartlett

Diane Morrison, chair of the association and chief executive of Mowi Canada West, said the federal government has turned its back on coastal communities.

“As a sector, we saw the dissolution of almost a quarter of our farms in a single announcement. This led to companies laying off hundreds of employees from well-paying careers — in a region of Canada struggling to attract and retain its youth,” she said.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance also said the decision will eliminate jobs in rural communities and increase food costs.

HEAR | CBC reporter Emily Vance explains what’s at stake for BC salmon farming:

“This decision defies First Nations reconciliation, increases the cost of food for Canadians and undermines food security, and has far-reaching implications for employment and economic opportunity for people in rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and for our global trade markets,” the Alliance said in an opinion.

But BC’s First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance says more than 100 First Nations support the federal government’s plan to move away from open-net salmon farms.

Alliance spokesman Bob Chamberlin said previous wild salmon runs are suffering and decisions must be made to help stocks recover.


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