Liberal government's decision to ban open-net salmon farming in British Columbia impacts thousands of jobs and makes a mockery of reconciliation pledges with First Nations

Ban on ocean salmon farms in BC triggers fierce backlash

Liberal government’s decision to ban open-net salmon farming in British Columbia impacts thousands of jobs and makes a mockery of reconciliation pledges with First Nations

By Fabian Dawson

The Liberal government’s decision to ban open-net salmon farming in British Columbia after 2029 has sparked fierce backlash from First Nations leaders, the industry – which supports over 5,000 jobs in the province – and even one of its own MPs.

Denying the science of its fisheries experts that show the marine operations pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks and bowing to the demands of activists to get their votes, the government’s decision is being described as irresponsible, unrealistic and unreasonable.

It also makes a mockery of the Liberals promise to deliver science-based decisions regarding the future of salmon farming in BC and walks back on the pledge of economic reconciliation with First Nations, said Indigenous community leaders.

The government in announcing the decision today said:

  • It will ban open net-pen salmon farms in British Columbia’s coastal waters by June 30, 2029, all of which are currently operated in agreement with Rights Holder First Nations.
  • It will renew existing salmon aquaculture licences, which expire at the end of this month, for five years with stricter conditions; 
  • It will, after July 1, 2024, only consider marine or land-based closed containment systems for salmon aquaculture licences in BC.
  • It intends to issue nine-year licences for closed-containment salmon production both on land and in the sea to successful applicants;
  • It will release a draft salmon aquaculture transition plan by July 31, 2024, that will focus on, among other things, how to support First Nations, workers, and communities impacted by its decision.

“This is a political decision that is not based on science or fact…it is based on the unscientific demands of white privileged urban activists who fearmonger with false data to build anti-fish farm narratives,” said Isaiah Robinson, deputy chief councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, which began farming and processing salmon independently in their traditional waters in the late 1980s.

Robinson and other leaders from the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship stressed they won’t be told how to manage resources in their traditional territories at a Press Conference following the announcement by Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier in Ottawa.

“Due to human impact on wild Pacific salmon stocks since colonization, many Nations have had to evolve their salmon stewardship and food security to include salmon farming. As a result, the sector has become interwoven into the fabric of our communities over the past few decades…economic reconciliation no longer means Ottawa telling First Nations what to do and how to do it in our traditional territories,” the Coalition said in a statement.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) said Minister Lebouthillier had committed repeatedly to deliver a responsible plan that was ‘realistic, reasonable and achievable.’

“Today, the Prime Minister and the Minister’s Cabinet colleagues have thrown the Minister’s commitments under the Liberal political bus and announced a plan that is the opposite: irresponsible, unrealistic, unreasonable and unachievable,” said Timothy Kennedy President & CEO of CAIA.

“Instead of embracing a balanced pathway towards economic opportunity, increasing healthy and affordable home-grown food, recognizing an exceptional level of Indigenous collaboration and economic reconciliation and incrementally greater environmental protection, the Liberal government has embraced a position that reflects unaccountable and extreme activist voices,” he said.

The 5-year period to fully transition from traditional farming infrastructure poses challenges for further investments in technology and innovations and will further impact the coastal communities who rely on our sector, said Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

“This focus on unproven technology jeopardizes the sector’s ability to fulfill agreements with rights-holder First Nations and will cause further harm to our communities,” he said.

Liberal MP Wayne Long, from Saint John, N.B, denounced his own government’s decision calling it “shameful”.

“As a party of science, it’s difficult to understand how we haven’t followed our own scientists’ recommendations,” Long said in a statement.

“As a party of Reconciliation, we are imposing an impossible timeline on coastal First Nations communities who choose to have salmon aquaculture to determine a realistic and responsible path for their economic futures,” he said.

Here is more of what those impacted by today’s decision are saying;

“Again and again, we have asked the federal government to deliver supports for B.C. workers, families and communities as part of any transition plan. Coastal communities need a clear plan and significant funding from the federal government to support workers and communities. The federal government needs to work directly with impacted communities and workers on next steps, and they must make sure First Nations have a direct role in determining what the transition looks like in their territories. –   Nathan Cullen, BC Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

“Our sector supports thousands of skilled BC workers, including the youngest agri-food workforce in Canada. Our workers only a few years ago were called “essential” for Canada by your government.  There are over 1000 distinct supply companies involved in BC salmon farming. Many of these also service Atlantic Canada and rely on a strong sector to grow Canadian jobs across Canada. What has been announced today does not meet the government’s commitment to a “responsible” plan as it will negatively impact thousands of Canadians.” – Aquaculture suppliers’ community

“At West Coast Reduction Ltd., we are committed to our partnership with BC Salmon Farmers in creating locally produced, sustainable, high-value products. The recent decision creates uncertainty, undermining regional business stability and investment capacity. This affects immediate operations and hampers long-term planning and sustainability efforts.” – Doug Davidson, Operations Manager, West Coast Reductions

“It is disappointing to learn that the Liberal government has yet again turned its back on coastal communities who rely heavily on salmon farming to drive their fractured economies. In doing so, the government has chosen to ignore science and their own commitments to truth and reconciliation. The decision is a political one. A desperate attempt to save a few ridings in Vancouver.” – Dave Stover, Co-owner and CEO, Brown’s Bay Packing Co.

“This decision creates a highly uncertain situation for our small business, stalling our plans for growth and development. Our plans to expand our office space in Campbell River have been put on hold. This is one small example of the widespread impact of this decision.” – Stephanie King, CEO and Founder, InWater Technologies

“This decision is very short-sighted. Coastal communities can only survive and thrive if there is stability. Fish farming offers coastal communities’ multigenerational stability. A chance to build equity and keep families together. I don’t understand why the federal government would sacrifice the well-being of these communities simply for the pleasure of the well-heeled urban elite.” – Dr. Brad Hicks, Partner, Taplow Feeds

“This decision will signal continued industry stagnation and uncertainty, resulting in a continued lack of investor confidence in our BC aquaculture sector. The result is reduced investment in innovation, ultimately forcing us to look for growth and investment opportunities in other progressive aquaculture sectors.” – Trevor Stanley, Managing Director, Skretting North America

“Five years ago, our world was turned upside down by the announcement that this thriving sector was going to be shut down. Our team, suppliers, and customers – and the families they support – have had to live with this uncertainty, all while not having their voices heard. Although we appreciate the extension, it’s difficult to come to terms with this decision. A great deal of misinformation has been provided by parties that have a lot to gain in seeing this sector shut down – while our hard-working people, and the small communities we serve, will be taking yet another hit.” – Ryan Brush, General Manager, Aquatrans Distributors Inc.

“AKVA group’s British Columbia division has been a vital contributor to the Canadian division’s success, driving innovation and maintaining our competitive edge in a challenging market. These decisions will have many impacts across the country and not just in British Columbia and present several challenges that threaten to undermine our progress and operational viability. This is a very short-sighted decision and flies directly against the development of a blue economy and Canada’s ability to help feed a growing worldwide population.” – Wade Kaskiw, Finance Manager, Akva Group

“We are hopeful that the forthcoming transition plan will provide much-needed guidance and be grounded in sound science. The aquaculture industry continues to evolve. It is an industry dependent on science and innovation to provide a nutritious and sustainably produced protein with a low carbon footprint that contributes to Canada’s food security and Blue Economy. We are committed to supporting the aquaculture industry in British Columbia and Canada more broadly. Our company will continue to partner with the industry and its stakeholders to find a responsible, realistic, and achievable path forward.” – Jacqueline Zimmerman, North America Account Manager, Merck Animal Health

(Image shows Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier)