Federal court upholds decision to keep open-net fish farms out of Discovery Islands

Federal court upholds decision to keep open-net fish farms out of Discovery Islands

A federal judge has ruled that Joyce Murray, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans at the time, was right to support her predecessor Bernadette Jordan’s decision not to renew fish farm licenses in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River.

The open-net fish farms have now been empty for two years after an 18-month phase-out that began in Dec. 2020.

It was a forced closure by Jordan because of concerns about the effects they had on wild salmon.

“I was so happy, it was spectacular, I was over the moon,” said Watershed Watch Salmon Society‘s Stan Proboszcz.

“Yeah, it’s a great decision for wild salmon to uphold the minister’s decision to not renew licenses.”

We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations, along with Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada, and Grieg Seafood, filed the judicial review.

In Campbell River, the Homalco First Nation, whose Traditional Territory includes the Discovery Islands, has been fighting fish farms since the early 2000s.

“I had someone come talk to me about the fish farm issue back in 2002. That was my first day on the job as chief,” said Homalco Chief Darren Blaney, who has since been re-elected.

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Fast forward to two years ago when 19 fish farms had to close.

“So is this the end of it then? Is this the end of fish farms, at least in the Discovery Islands?” he was asked.

“I hope so. You can count on DFO to be wishy-washy, you can count on them to be spineless, and you can count on all the bureaucrats within DFO that are promoting farms to carry on trying to get to business as usual, so I wouldn’t bet my house on it.”

The BC Salmon Farmers Association says it is disappointed to hear the result of the second judicial review decision.

“While this news is disheartening, there is still a collaborative pathway forward with the current Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, as this decision was made by the preceding minister and will not impact the future delivery of a responsible transition plan or the upcoming licensing decision,” the BCSFA said in a statement.

“We are committed to working with all levels of government, the rights-holder First Nations in whose territories we operate, and various other stakeholders to continue on a responsible, realistic, and achievable path forward. We will have more to say in the coming weeks after we have had time to review this decision in more detail.”

Up next is a major decision on all other fish farms.

In 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau made an election campaign commitment to transition away from open-net pen salmon farming in B.C. waters by 2025.

All open-net salmon farm licenses in B.C. expire at the end of June.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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