Cermaq Canada says it’s disappointed after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans denied its application to move 1.5-million Atlantic salmon smolts from hatcheries to two saltwater farms.
The salmon smolts were slated to be moved to Venture Point and Brent Island in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River.
“We had invested well over 12 months into their life cycle, if you will, and we were really given no warning or advance notice that the decision was coming,” said Cermaq Managing Director David Kiemele.
The first decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan last December stated all fish farms in the Discovery Islands owned by all companies including Cermaq had to close by June 2022, but Cermaq and other companies argued they should be at least allowed to stock the farms with smolts they had already been raising in hatcheries.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been under pressure from environmentalist groups and First Nations to close the farms to protect wild salmon heading out from the Fraser and other rivers.
But Cermaq says it had an agreement with the Wei Wai Kum First Nation in Campbell River to allow the smolts in the pens and made an application to move the 1.5-million smolts. Jordan denied the application Monday.
“We firmly believe that this agreement we structured with the Wei Wai Kum Nation is a great example of businesses that operate and understand our requirements and responsibilities under UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and reconciliation. Quite frankly that was taken away by the minister’s decision,” said Kiemele.
But many First Nations leaders are applauding Minister Jordan’s decision.
“The vast majority of First Nations across the province of B.C. want to see fish farms out of the ocean,” said Robert Chamberlin, Chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance. “Minister Jordan continues to prioritize the protection of wild salmon across British Columbia and this is a very welcomed development.”
Social acceptibility for commercial aquaculture activities in Discovery Islands is “lacking,” a factor that the minister found to be important in assessing the application, said Rebecca Reid, the DFO’s regional director general for the Pacific Region.
“As such, in light of these concerns and of the lack of social acceptability, the Minster has denied the applications,” she said.
Keimele said that’s where the whole situation is “perplexing” to him.
“The Minister’s decision talked about social acceptance so I’m not sure what that means and quite frankly it’s scary that that definition is determined by someone who has never been to a salmon farm in British Columbia,” said Kiemele.
Cermaq says it hasn’t decided what its next move is but says if the 1.5-million fish are lost that represents seven- to eight-million meals.