It's time for our politicians to boldly defend the partnerships between BC’s salmon farmers and First Nations as a model of Indigenous reconciliation and environmental stewardship that the world can emulate.

Canada’s misguided ban on ocean salmon farming in BC

It’s time for our politicians to boldly defend the partnerships between BC’s salmon farmers and First Nations as a model of Indigenous reconciliation and environmental stewardship that the world can emulate.

By SeaWestNews

The Liberal government’s decision to ban open-net salmon farming in British Columbia by 2029 is a misguided and harmful policy that will have far-reaching negative consequences for Canada’s economy, coastal communities, and First Nations.

This ban, which flies in the face of scientific evidence and expert recommendations, is a politically motivated move that prioritizes appeasing urban activists over supporting rural economies and Indigenous rights.

The government’s own fisheries experts have concluded that these marine operations pose minimal risk to wild stocks, yet their science-based assessments have been ignored in favour of unfounded fears and misinformation propagated by activists.

The economic impact of this decision cannot be overstated.

The salmon farming industry supports close to 6,000 direct and indirect jobs in British Columbia alone, many of which are in rural coastal communities with limited alternative employment options.

The sector also directly and indirectly employs over 700 Indigenous people and provides $120 million in total annual direct and indirect economic benefits to BC First Nations, with $42 million going directly to Indigenous communities. Today, 100 percent of BC’s farmed salmon is raised in agreement with Rights Holder First Nations. 

The Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation in BC’s remote central coast is a prime example of how a community has prospered with salmon farming while securing the future of wild stocks in its territorial waters.

The aquaculture pioneers began farming and processing salmon independently in their waters in the late 1980s and in 1998 formed a partnership with Mowi, which this month was named among the world’s 500 most sustainable companies by TIME magazine after consistently topping a global index that ranks companies in responsible food production.

This past Earth Day, the Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation was awarded the prestigious Blue Park Award, for exceptional marine biodiversity conservation – a testament to the indigenous community’s stewardship of its traditional territories.

“We have built an aquaculture business that fits the capacity, lands, and waters of our territories, meets the needs of Canadians, feeds into the government’s transition to a blue economy, removes pressure from wild salmon populations, and gives our people the chance to reclaim the quality of life that was stolen from us at the time of contact, states Isaiah Robinson, Deputy Chief Councillor of Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation.

“Salmon aquaculture has been transformative for my community, elevating us from a 5% to a 99% employment rate, with 51% of those jobs tied directly to aquaculture. We have not had a suicide in 18 years, something we credit in no small measure to our high rate of meaningful employment,” he wrote in a recent op-ed.

Instead of using this community’s success as a blueprint to show how sustainable aquaculture can revitalize struggling coastal communities, Ottawa has told the Kitasoo Xai’xais to shut down their operations and replace them with in-water or land-based closed containment systems after 2029.

By forcing the industry to transition to unproven closed containment systems within an unrealistic time frame, the government is jeopardizing the jobs and the livelihoods of thousands of Canadians and indigenous communities like the Kitasoo Xai’xais.

Perhaps most troubling is the way this decision undermines the government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship has strongly criticized the ban, stating that it represents a return to paternalistic policies where Ottawa dictates how Indigenous peoples should manage resources in their traditional territories.

By hampering domestic production, Canada has become more reliant on imported seafood, increasing costs for consumers and the environmental impact of transportation, states a new study funded by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab of Dalhousie University.

The study authors state unequivocally that the BC salmon farm closures carry profound consequences for both the environment and market dynamics and will trigger substantial economic disruptions, massive job losses and heighten the nation’s food insecurity.

Furthermore, this decision sends a chilling message to investors and innovators in Canada’s aquaculture sector. The uncertainty created by such abrupt policy shifts discourages long-term investment and technological advancement, stunting the growth of Canada’s blue economy.

Prior to the announcement, salmon farmers in British Columbia said they are ready to directly invest $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology and infrastructure. The investments through 2050 would create almost 10,000 new jobs and add a cumulative $44 billion in new economic activity to propel Canada’s Blue Economy.

But the Trudeau Liberals have sacrificed all of this at the altar of political expediency and activism, reneging on their promise to make science-based decisions on the future of salmon farming in BC.

The lack of adequate consultation with key stakeholders, including First Nations and the aquaculture sector, also undermines the credibility of the ban.

Indigenous leaders and local communities were not given sufficient opportunities to participate in the decision-making process, leading to a decision that is a top-down imposition rather than one that is based on a collaborative, science-based policy.

Any way you look at it, the ban on open-net salmon farms in BC, driven by activist agendas, is detrimental to Canada’s economy, food security, and environmental goals, ultimately harming the very people and ecosystems it aims to protect.

BC’s salmon farmers and their First Nations partners are the backbone of Canada’s blue economy.  This alliance of innovation and traditional knowledge is not just vital – it’s the linchpin of our coastal prosperity and food security.

It’s time for our politicians to boldly defend these partnerships, not just as an economic asset, but as a model of Indigenous reconciliation and environmental stewardship that the world can emulate.

(Facebook image shows Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier announcing the Government of Canada’s Tripartite Agreement with the Province of BC and BC First Nations Fisheries Council to further protect Pacific wild salmon)