About 700 businesses in North Vancouver Island will be impacted by salmon farm closures in the Discovery Islands, says an independent economic recovery taskforce
By Fabian Dawson
Every summer during the third weekend in July, the people of Port Hardy come together for a celebration called Filomi Days.
It is an event held to recognise the local industries – Fishing, Logging and Mining – that built this North Vancouver Island coastal community of about 5,000 people.
Because of the pandemic, the 2020 event was cancelled.
If it is going to be held this year, it will be more of a wake than a celebration for the community, one of four in the Vancouver North Island region, where a total of 1,500 jobs are on the line because of the planned closures of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.
“Fishing is gone, logging is almost gone, mining is completely gone…we really are just plainly going to lose out and become ghost towns,” said Henry Walkus of the James Walkus Fishing Co. Ltd, an indigenous enterprise that serves the commercial fishing and salmon farming operations on the BC coast.
“A lot of the mainland people don’t realise what a lifeline farm fish has been for the North Island,” said Walkus in a video message addressed to Bernadette Jordan, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who made the pre-Christmas decision to phase out the salmon farms, which had been operating for 35 years.
Jordan made the decision without the input of the industry and local mayors and at the expense of science, including nine peer reviewed scientific studies which showed that salmon farms in the area, had only minimal impact on wild stocks migrating through the waters off Discovery Islands.
As a bleak 2021 dawns for North Vancouver Island, residents, businesses and aquaculture industry workers, led by the mayors of Campbell River, Gold River, Port McNeill and Port Hardy are voicing their fears in letters to Jordan and via a social media campaign – #coastaljobsgone.
Katie Maximick, community relations specialist at Grieg Seafood BC Ltd. said in her post: “Hundreds of people have been trying to contact Minister Bernadette Jordan…They’ve been telling their stories; asking you (the minister) for help; asking you why you made this decision without proper consultation, and asking you what’s next? What are you going to do to help us?”
South of Port Hardy, in Campbell River, which prides itself as the “Salmon Capital of the World” about 700 businesses and vendors, that service Vancouver’s Island aquaculture industry, are bracing for the fallout from the Discovery Islands decision, states an independent economic taskforce.
The Campbell River Business Recovery Taskforce, comprised of community and business leaders, estimated the annual spending by fish farmers on supplies and services via local businesses and vendors at $132.65 million.
In a message to be published in the local newspaper this week, entitled “Listen Up Campbell River”, the task force said: “Whether you agree or disagree with the decision of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it is important, we think, that each member of the community is fully informed about what this industry contributes directly and indirectly in cash input to Campbell River and how the other local business are connected to the salmon farming industry and what may be lost if this industry either fully or partially retreats from the current scope of its business.”
“There is a direct connection between the health of first dollar industries (Aquaculture is a first dollar industry) to the number of schools, retail options, scope of health care, the number of parks, property values and general community amenities and attractiveness that are hallmarks of this community.”
Brian Stamp, a former lawyer, who co-chairs the taskforce with Garth Sheane, a retired credit union CEO, told SeaWestNews that their group was taking out the ads because they are “convinced that the vast majority of the members of this community have no clue what aquaculture brings in the way of economic benefits to Campbell River and the area.”
“We are attempting to inform so the activist (often outside) voices become subject to greater scrutiny and choices are made with full knowledge of what is at stake when these types of issues occur,” said Stamp.
Last October, as anti-fish farm activists ratcheted up their campaign to oust fish farms from BC waters, the taskforce issued a report urging politicians at all levels of government to listen to the people who live and work in the area.
“The attractiveness of Campbell River must not be put at risk by lack of awareness or other narratives put forth by those who have no stake in this community,” stated the independent report by the taskforce.
Prior to the Discovery Islands’ decision, the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) unveiled plans to invest $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology and infrastructure through 2050 and create almost 10,000 new jobs.
Several projects outlined in the plan, aimed to propel the post-pandemic recovery of BC, are now being reconsidered.
In addition to the job losses, BCSFA estimates the closures will also result in the loss of $379.7 million in economic output, a labour income loss of $84.6 million and a tax hit amounting to $21 million for BC. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of BC will ultimately shrink by $135.6 million as a result of the decision.
“At a time when people and communities are fighting a pandemic, the aquaculture industry offers sustainable answers to those challenges…it demands that this ill-conceived decision needs rethinking,” said Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia.
Minister Jordan has said she is “committed to working with all involved parties; the First Nations, industry and the Province of British Columbia, over the next 18 months to ensure a fair and orderly transition process that phases out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands.”
(Image of the Port Hardy waterfront park)