Science-deficit activism against marine aquaculture throws scores of new immigrants and students out of work, as BC’s biggest salmon farmer closes fish processing plant in Surrey.
By Fabian Dawson
It was just about five months ago, that Manu John and his wife welcomed their new baby boy. They had bought a house and their Canadian immigrant dream was alive and well.
“Now everything is going to be shattered,” said John, one of about 80 people, mostly new immigrants and students, who were told this morning that their jobs at a fish processing plant in Surrey is no more.
“There are many people like me who come to this country looking for a better future and if they don’t have jobs…what’s the whole point of coming to this country,” said John, who pointed out the irony of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supporting protesting farmers in India while abandoning them here, in a video.
“We’ve always been told Trudeau is our guy and we always looked to Trudeau to support us and (now) we don’t know who we should trust,” said John adding that the Liberal government is using aquaculture-related livelihoods as a political weapon to get votes from the anti-salmon farming lobby.
Mowi Canada West – British Columbia’s largest salmon producer – said the move to permanently close its fish processing plant in Surrey is a direct result of the Liberal Government’s decision on December 17th, 2020, to cancel salmon farming licenses in the Discovery Islands.
The 23,000 square foot value-added processing plant began operations in December 2017, and currently employs approximately 80 people, mostly new immigrants from India and Vietnam and a mix of international and local students.
The decision to phase out salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands was made by former Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, despite her own scientists saying that the marine operations pose less than a minimal risk to wild fish migrating through the area.
She also ignored her deputy minister’s recommendation for a more coordinated approach to the closures, which was primarily pushed for by anti-fish farm activists, many operating from the Metro Vancouver area.
The salmon farmers, who support about 6,500 full-time, year round jobs in the province, are awaiting a judicial review of the minister’s decision, while operating in an era of uncertainty.
“It is clear that the decision of the former Minister has lasting implications. Her decision is far reaching and continues to be incredibly damaging to the communities where we operate,” said Dean Dobrinsky, spokesperson for Mowi Canada West.
“It has been more than a year and we have yet to hear from either the former Minister or the new Minister Joyce Murray,” said Dobrinsky, adding that nearly 50 per cent of Mowi’s production in BC has been cut because of the Discovery Islands and the earlier Broughton Archipelago decisions to phase out salmon farms.
The devastating economic fallout triggered by the closures of these salmon farms will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits, and 1,535 fewer job, according to an independent analysis.
In Surrey, the hub of salmon farming in Metro Vancouver, the city will lose 344 jobs, including the 80 at Mowi’s fish processing plant, $220 million in annual revenue, $46 million in GDP and $24 million in annual salaries, said the report.
Before today’s announcement, Mowi said that it was temporarily ceasing operations at its Dalrymple salmon hatchery on Vancouver Island and laying off 17 staff, as a direct result of the Discovery Islands decision.
“This is what happens when politics overrides science-based evidence,” said Rupinder Dadwan, Human Resources Manager at the Mowi plant in Surrey.
“At the beginning of the pandemic we were deemed an essential service providing our country affordable and healthy food, and now we’re forced to close our doors. Our Federal Government doesn’t have to do this – it can choose fairness and engagement over divisiveness and exclusion,” he said.
The Surrey Board of Trade said it is devastated that 80 jobs have been lost in Surrey and that these jobs are moving to the US.
“There has been no government action, by any level, to help save these jobs in the salmon farming industry, an industry that is an important economic ingredient to Canada and to our food security systems,” said Anita Huberman, President & CEO, Surrey Board of Trade.
In addition to phase out of salmon farms in the Discovery islands and the Broughton Archipelago, over 100 federal salmon farming permits are set to expire next June.
The anti-fish farming activists, whose dubious claims were last week rejected by the Washington State Supreme Court in a similar battle as is being waged in BC, want all the pending licence renewals on Canada’s west coast cancelled.
Mowi said that until business certainty is restored in British Columbia, it will supply its customers’ orders for value-added seafoods through its facilities located in the United States. The Surrey plant is expected to close in late March 2022. Mowi, will continue to primary process all salmon grown in B.C. at its plant in Port Hardy.
SeaWestNews has reached out to Minister Murray for comment.