OTTAWA – The federal government says open-net pen salmon farming may continue off British Columbia’s coast outside the Discovery Islands area, while Ottawa undertakes consultation on the plan to transition away from the practice.
A statement from Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it will share a draft framework for the transition in the coming weeks and consultation will run until early 2023 with the final plan to transition 79 open-net pen farms expected next spring.
The department says a separate consultation process is underway with First Nations and licence holders for fish farms around the Discovery Islands, located along a key migration route for wild salmon between Vancouver Island and B.C.’s mainland.
In the meantime, it says licences for Atlantic salmon facilities in that area are not being renewed and a final decision is expected next January.
Aquaculture operators around the Discovery Islands had already begun scaling back after the previous fisheries minister, Bernadette Jordan, announced in late 2020 that 19 salmon farms would be phased out by the end of this month.
However, a Federal Court judge set aside that decision two months ago, forcing the government to rework its transition plan.
Salmon farm companies Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood had applied for a judicial review of the order that prevented them from restocking their fish, arguing it lacked reasons and didn’t “show an appreciation of the facts.”
In her April decision, Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan found the earlier order breached the right to procedural fairness owed to the fish farms.
Heneghan agreed with the applicants, finding that in the absence of reasons, the decision wasn’t transparent and could not be justified.
The department says in the news release that Pacific salmon are facing historic threats and part of its mandate to protect the fish is to transition away from open-net salmon aquaculture, which studies have shown can spread disease to wild salmon as they migrate past.
The mandate letter for Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray tasks her with transitioning fish farming out of B.C. waters by 2025.
“Wild Pacific salmon are an iconic keystone species in British Columbia that are facing historic threats,” Murray said in the statement released Wednesday. “Our government is taking action to protect and return wild salmon to abundance and ensure Canada is a global leader in sustainable aquaculture.”
Ottawa’s transition plan for the aquaculture industry will include “new technology, while reducing or eliminating interactions with wild Pacific salmon,” Murray said.
Josie Osborne, Minister Responsible for Fisheries, and Fin Donnelly, Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture, released a joint statement Wednesday afternoon committing to working with the federal government on an open-net salmon farm transition process that balances the protection of wild salmon, the environment and the economy, and meets our government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.
“Our government has been exceedingly clear about the need for a comprehensive federal support plan for First Nations and communities that rely on salmon aquaculture for their livelihoods, as well as for exploring new technology and economic opportunities for the industry in these regions,” the statement said. “Our government will continue working with Canada, First Nations, and our partners and stakeholders to protect and restore wild salmon populations as committed to in the Declaration Act Action Plan, while advocating for and supporting a comprehensive federal support plan for those affected by the upcoming transition.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.