Canadian Federation of Agriculture joins growing chorus of support for BC salmon farmers and urges government to review Discovery Islands aquaculture ban
By Fabian Dawson
Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood BC, which risk losing a significant part of their operations as a result of plans to phase out salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands, are asking the Federal Court for a judicial review of the government decision.
Bernadette Jordan, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, made the pre-Christmas decision primarily driven by anti-fish farm activism, without the input of the industry and local coastal communities.
In making the decision, Jordan largely ignored nine peer reviewed scientific studies by her own department, which showed that salmon farms in the area had only minimal impact on wild stocks migrating through the waters off Discovery Islands.
Most of the sockeye salmon that head to sea from the Fraser River and back to their spawning grounds, travel through the waters around Discovery Islands where 19 salmon farms have operated during the past 35 years.
The anti-fish farming activists claim, without any credible evidence, that the farms endanger migrating wild stocks.
In a statement, Mowi said the decision will impact between 13 to 15 of its farms, which represent about 30 per cent of the company’s entire British Columbia operations.
Mowi was scheduled to stock several farms in early 2021, but under the Minister’s decision is currently unable to do so. If the decision stands Mowi will have to cull several million young fish currently in hatcheries, as it has no alternative locations to place those fish.
“The decision and related timelines and lack of precision are unreasonable, and threaten the viability of the Mowi’s entire operations in British Columbia,” the company said.
“As the decision stands, the closing of salmon farms will result in significant job loss in coastal communities. These employees work directly on the impacted farms as well as in hatcheries, processing facilities, and supporting departments.
“Mowi will be forced to terminate or reduce contracts with local Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses supplying goods and services supporting the farms, hatcheries, and processing facilities.
The company operates salmon farms and processing plants in British Columbia where 645 people raise up to 40,000 tonnes of sustainable Atlantic salmon each year. It is part of the Mowi ASA group, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon.
Cermaq Canada said its judicial review focuses only on the conduct of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister Jordan.
“We respect the opinions and the rights of the First Nations in the Discovery Islands region” said David Kiemele, managing director for Cermaq Canada, in a statement.
“The judicial review brought by Cermaq is meant to allow time for Cermaq to engage with these local First Nations regarding our operations in their territories. The goal of such engagement will be for Cermaq to work with the local First Nations to examine opportunities to achieve agreements, allowing for our continued operations into the future under the oversight of these Nations,” he said.
Cermaq has three farms in the Discovery Islands representing about 20 per cent of its overall production.
“At the time of DFO’s announcement, plans were well underway for the stocking of two of Cermaq’s three farm sites in the Discovery Islands region later this spring, representing a measurable investment by Cermaq,” said Kiemele.
“This means that the significant number of fish that were destined for these two sites are in limbo as these fish no longer have a farm location in which to complete their grow out. This has put our operations in disarray, significant value at risk, and left us with little option other than to initiate this judicial review,” he said.
The other fish farmer impacted by the decision is Grieg Seafood BC, which has one farm in the Discovery Islands. It is looking at the option of increasing production at its other BC farms.
“This decision has profound effects on our industry and local communities. We hope that a judicial review of the decision process will allow us to better understand the implications. More time is needed to engage with the Nations in whose territories we operate,” a company spokesperson said.
The closure of the 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands will result in 1,498 people losing their jobs, mostly in the coastal communities of North Vancouver Island, estimates by the industry shows.
The planned closures over the next 18 months will also result in the loss of $379.7 million in economic output for the region, a labour income loss of $84.6 million, and a tax hit for the region amounting to $21 million.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of BC will ultimately shrink by $135.6 million as a result of the decision, that will devastate the economies of Campbell River, Gold River, Port McNeill and Port Hardy.
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.
The Campbell River Business Recovery Taskforce, comprised of community and business leaders, estimated the annual spending by fish farmers on supplies and services, via 700 local businesses and vendors, at $132.65 million.
Farmed Atlantic salmon is BC’s #1 seafood and agri-food export with a total economic output of $1.6 billion. The industry currently supports nearly 6,500 full time jobs that pay 30% higher than BC’s median income.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), has joined a growing chorus of support for BC fish farmers asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to review the Discovery Islands decision.
In an open letter to Trudeau, CFA president, Mary Robinson, wrote: “Despite the importance your government has placed on transparency, consulting with Canadians and making science and evidence-based decisions, the decision to close the salmon farms seems to contradict these principles. This food sector has been the subject of exhaustive reviews and scientific study to determine any impacts on wild salmon populations.
“Because the farms passed this high bar of performance, the process for renewing federal licenses should have been fair and taken into account this performance, the science, and community impact. Unfortunately, it did not.
“We urge the federal government to immediately develop a growth plan for the aquaculture sector, especially for the salmon sector in British Columbia, to enable the sustainable growth of the sector and provide clarity and certainty for investment.
“We also ask your government to explicitly identify a federal department to champion the economic growth of the aquaculture sector.”
(A Mowi fish farm in BC)