A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. Today (Dec. 17) Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan gave B.C. salmon farm operators 18 months to deactivate farms in the Discovery Islands. (Quinn Bender photo)

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. Today (Dec. 17) Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan gave B.C. salmon farm operators 18 months to deactivate farms in the Discovery Islands. (Quinn Bender photo)

Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

Federal government gives operators 18 months to grow-out their last harvest

B.C. salmon farm operators have been given 18 months to clear out of the Discovery Islands.

The decision today announced by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan ends a long campaign among wild salmon advocates to rid a critical migratory route of open-net pen farms.

Independent biologist Alexandra Morton, who spearheaded much of the research and activism against the farms, learned of the decision from Black Press Media.

“You told me the best news in 35 years of this fight,” she said.

“I’ve been studying these little sockeye for so long. This means they’re going to get to sea alive. This means we can start reversing that decline. I realize salmon farms are not the entire problem, but if they’re not getting to sea, nothing else is going to matter. I stand in awe of the First Nations leadership that made this happen.”

READ MORE: Can B.C. salmon farmers play a bigger role in post-pandemic economic recovery?

A number of factors are blamed for B.C.’s dwindling salmon populations, including over-fishing, climate change, warming waters, and increased predation. Open-net pens have the potential to act as reservoirs for naturally occurring sea lice and pathogens that transfer to out-migrating juvenile fish. Salmon farm opponents believe farms in the Discovery Islands are a leading cause of the decline.

Jordan’s decision follows three months of consultations with industry and seven area First Nations on whether to renew the 19 area licences, set to expire Dec. 18.

“The joy that’s going to happen from this result is going to be far-reaching for many salmon warriors across the province,” Bob Chamberlain, chair of the First Nations Salmon Alliance said.

Chamberlain stressed the decision has the potential for immediate positive impact, as farms in a key route in the Okisollo Channel will complete their harvests before the next out-migration.

“There is significant benefit here — I’m so happy,” he said. “We’ve had two historic low returns, and I’m not sure if people connect what that means for future generations. It means historic low salmon eggs as well. And it’s established fact that only one to four per cent of juveniles make it back as spawners. Even if there are no impacts or barriers, when these fish return we’re going to have another historic low. We’re on a very critical downward spiral, so what’s happened today will have a significant benefit right away.”

The Living Oceans Society, David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice were among the first conservation groups to also issue statements celebrating the news.

About 80 per cent of the 3 million farmed salmon currently stocked in the island group are expected to be harvested by April, according to the fisheries ministry. Currently, just nine of the 19 licenced Discovery Islands farms contain salmon.

The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in these narrow waterways by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) risk assessments this year found the impacts were below that critical threshold, but public pressure resulted in recent consultations and today’s decision.

“British Columbians and Indigenous peoples have been very clear that they wanted to be part of the decisions of what’s done in their coastal waters and territories. We’re listening to them,” Jordan said in a telephone interview. “What we heard was they did not want [the farms] there.

“It was an extremely difficult decision for me. I know there are people whose jobs are impacted, communities that are impacted, and that’s why I did not take this decision lightly.”

The 18-month grace period allows time for the completion of the fishes’ growth cycle before harvest, but operators are not permitted to add any new stocks to the Discovery Islands sites. The farms must be fish free by June 30, 2022.

DFO will immediately begin working with the industry on a transition plan.

READ MORE: B.C.’s declining fisheries the result of poor DFO management: audit

‘A bad time’: salmon farmers

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) was disapointed by today’s decision, and has previously stated they feel public opposition is mired in the belief of outdated practices that don’t account for innovations, monitoring standards and treatments put in place since the release of the Cohen Commission report eight years ago.

“This decision has significant implications and puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk,” BCSFA spokesperson Shawn Hall said. “This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important. We have just received this decision, and will be taking some time to consider it and speak with the numerous companies and communities involved in salmon farming in the province before commenting further.”

According to the BCSFA the industry as a whole supports about 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province. Farmed salmon has a landed value of $772.5 million annually and is B.C.’s leading food export worth $562 million in 2019.

A recent report commissioned by the BCSFA shows the industry is poised to begin investments worth $1.4 billion over the next 30 years that could generate $44 billion in economic output and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050.

For that to happen, the sector needs to see a “predictable policy approach” to salmon farming from the provincial and federal governments.

Ottawa aims to develop a plan by 2025 to transition all open-net pens out of B.C. waters, which salmon-farm activists have interpreted as a move to in-land operations, but the industry says the ecological footprint and economic costs would be too great. Two likely options are closed and semi-closed containment systems that offer a physical barrier between farmed salmon and wild fish.

READ MORE: B.C. trials of new salmon farm containment system underway

It remains to be seen how today’s decision will affect industry optimism, but Jordan said the sector will remain an important part of the federal government’s Blue Economy Strategy, as broad consultations on what that will look like begin in early 2021.

“I believe that aquaculture has a place on the B.C. coast. It employs thousands of people and is a really important part of the B.C. economy. But we want to make sure we’re working with them [industry] to make sure it’s sustainable … and those are the kind of things that will be part of the consultation process going forward.”



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Fisheries and Oceans CanadaSalmon farming

Just Posted

The Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre will be closed from June 28 until September 13 for annual facility maintenance as well as teach pool and decking repairs. (Black Press photo)
Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre closed: June 28 – September 13

The aquatic centre will be closed for annual facility maintenance

Shoes are being left at the viewpoint on Haisla Blvd in response to the 215 bodies discovered at the Kamloops Residential School. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Haisla Nation responds to 215 Indigenous children found buried at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School

“Many Haisla children were sent far away, to places such as Port Alberni, and to Coqualeetza”

Susan Jay hosted a plant and garage sale on May 25 and donated all of her proceeds to the Kitimat General Hospital Foundation to help with the purchase of a new bus for residents at Mountain View Lodge, Delta King and the new Kitimat Valley Housing Society dementia home. (Barbara Campbell photo)
KGHF thanks Susan Jay for her help to purchase a new bus for seniors in multi-level care

Susan donated all proceeds to KGHF, her efforts netted the hospital foundation a total of $1,760

An example of what a mural would look like on the back wall on Ron’s Bait and Tackle Store which faces the courtyard and sidewall. The mural photos shown here are mock-ups of existing artwork on walls of interest in the downtown core to build anticipation within the community about the concept of murals. The KPAA will not necessarily be using these locations or this artwork for the actual murals. (KPAA photo)
Kitimat Public Art Alliance mural funding request denied

D’Andrea suggested she will come back to the council at a later date with a more concrete plan

L-R: Vanessa Couto, Montana Murray, Connor Best, Dawn Best, Natalia Lopez, Thomas Walton, and Charlotte Collier partaking in the clean-up Kitimat campaign on May 28. (Katie Peacock photo)
Kitimat’s MStar Hotel brings out staff’s competitive clean-up side

The hotel staff circulated the Big Spruce Trailhead and picked up as much garbage as they could

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Most Read