A new report lays bare widespread economic, human and animal welfare impacts that will result from shutting down salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands.

BC salmon farms shutdown will have devastating impacts

A new report lays bare widespread economic, human and animal welfare impacts that will result from shutting down salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands.

By Fabian Dawson

BC’s salmon farmers will have to destroy 10.7 million young fish – the equivalent of over 210 million protein rich meals – if the federal government does not set aside its decision to force the closure of fish farms in the Discovery Islands area by next summer.

The closures will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits and 1,535 fewer jobs, mainly in remote coastal communities of BC, where there are very few alternative employment opportunities or income sources for families.

The staggering impacts of the sudden pre-Christmas decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan at the behest of anti-fish farm activists and at the expense of peer reviewed science, are being laid bare in a report released today, which calls for the planned 18-month phase-out, to be reviewed and delayed.

The    independent economic analysis commissioned by the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA)   and conducted by RIAS Inc, comes in the wake of virtually every stakeholder in the industry – the BC Government, some First Nations in the area, fisheries scientists, the salmon farmers and mayors of Vancouver Island’s northern region, slamming the decision.

The salmon farmers are calling on the government to allow them to transfer fish already in their systems to the farms to complete their lifecycle and to bring all parties together in an inclusive and transparent process to find a better way forward and create unity in the affected communities.

Prior to the report being released, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), responding to questions by SeaWestNews, said it has no plans to review the decision.

“The decision to phase out the fish farms in the Discovery Islands was made by Minister Jordan after much consultation. Those in the region and those involved in the sector would have known for months prior, if not years, that a final decision would be made by December 2020 regarding the future of the farms,” DFO told SeaWestNews.

“In 2021, Canadians expect First Nations to have a say in what economic activity occurs on their territory. These pens were not the right fit for the area.”

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 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, are now asking the Federal Court for judicial reviews of the government decision.

“Reading this report when it arrived was heart-wrenching,” said BCSFA executive director, John Paul Fraser.

“We have been speaking about the impacts of this rushed, ill-considered decision since the day it was made, but this report really captured just how widespread the human and animal welfare impacts will be,’ he said.

“Thankfully, we are also able to offer a reasonable, respectful way forward, one consistent with genuine reconciliation with First Nations and real engagement with all parties. The ball is now in the government’s court, and we ask them to seriously, and urgently, consider this reasonable way forward.”

At the minimum, the salmon farmers are seeking a 54-month timeframe for the Discovery islands phase out which would provide sufficient time to forestall the impending devastation for the industry, suppliers, Indigenous partners, employees and their families, said BCSFA.

Report author Doug Blair, an economist and managing director of RIAS Inc., added that in his research he found significant concern with the lack of consultation by the Minister, leading her to make a rushed decision without understanding the implications and seemingly no plan to manage impacts.

“With only cursory consultation with affected parties, it is unclear how the true impacts of this decision were considered as part of the government’s decision-making process,” Blair said.

“The only way to avoid the severe damages shown in our report would be for the government to revisit this decision and engage in a genuine process of consultation with all parties aimed at finding a better way forward. As it is, left unchanged, this decision will be devastating.”

According to the report, the Discovery Islands decision, left unaltered, will:

• shut down more than 24 per cent of B.C.’s farmed salmon production, which now is B.C.’s highest valued seafood product, the province’s top agricultural export, and generates over $1.6-billion towards the B.C. economy, supporting nearly 6,500 jobs.

• potentially eliminate more than 1,500 jobs, with layoffs starting in the first quarter of this year, with more to come as the decision ripples through the industry and Vancouver Island communities;

• impact local food supply. B.C. salmon farmers currently produce more than three-quarters of the salmon harvested in B.C. each year – more than 6.5 million meals worth every week;

• force salmon farming companies to destroy up to 10.7 million broodstock, eggs, parr/smolt in freshwater hatcheries, smolt in saltwater nursery sites, and young fish in saltwater grow-out sites, but for which the industry now has no capacity. This is the equivalent of about two years of the province’s total harvest of wild salmon, or over 210 million meals.

• remove almost $200 million in annual revenue from salmon farming and processing along with the associated salaries, taxes, and community benefits;

• cost the B.C. economy almost $390 million in annual economic output, with an estimated $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits and $21 million less in annual tax revenue at the local, provincial, and federal levels; and

• affect the ability of salmon farming companies to continue to support communities at existing levels for community sponsorship and donations programs, food bank donations, wild salmon habitat restoration projects, ocean and habitat restoration projects and the donation of Pacific salmon eggs and smolts to hatchery operations.

Blair added his analysis is likely conservative, and the actual impact will be more significant.

“In compiling this report we did our best to quantify the expected immediate impacts of this decision,” said Blair.

“In reality, the impacts likely will be far greater. That’s because we cannot account for the ripple effects from hundreds of families being forced to relocate elsewhere for work, selling their homes and leaving a hole in the community, or that the decision will likely push some suppliers over the brink into failure.”

(Pix of aquaculture intern courtesy of Mowi)