women's day

Canada’s new Fisheries Minister saddled with a mandate of contradictions

Bernadette Jordan, the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, deserves a mandate that compliments Canada’s vision to lead the Global Blue Economy, not contradict it

By Fabian Dawson

Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to his new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadette Jordan, is a document of contradictions.

Littered with lofty ideals, the mandate says one thing but directs to the opposite.

One of the key elements in the document is the instruction to Jordan to “work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.”

This about-face mid-campaign pledge, pushed by the anti-salmon farming lobby, got the Liberals to cave in on their vows and sacrifice over 7,000 sustainable livelihoods, in exchange for urban votes.

The wording of this mandate at best is hazy. You can’t be sure if they want a transition plan by 2025, or have all ocean-based pens shut down by then.

Whatever the case may be, the Liberals continue to ignore warnings that their pledge to move all ocean-based farms, likely to land based systems, will have significant adverse environmental impacts and devastate rural coastal communities.

Experts and scientists have characterised the pledge as “nonsense”, “reckless”, “destructive” and “careless”.

The government’s own report — State of Aquaculture Technologies — looked at different production systems with the potential to deliver market-sized salmon and concluded in a draft “the new technologies discussed in this report, as well as conventional net pen systems, will all play a role in contributing to global production of salmon products.”

But the Liberals prefer the science-deficit apocalyptic hyperbole of a few urban professional activists, by pledging to phase out open-net salmon farms.

Which brings us to the part of the mandate document that states – “We are committed to evidence-based decision-making that takes into consideration the impacts of policies on all Canadians and fully defends the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Everyone from the Cohen Commission, which listed more than 20 activities affecting Pacific salmon, to the regional, national and global scientists working to improve the population of wild stocks, have stated unequivocally that there is no credible scientific evidence to link declines in Pacific salmon stocks at a population level to salmon farming on B.C.’s coasts.

The scientific consensus tells us that done responsibly, salmon farming does not have a negative impact on wild salmon populations.

Ignoring the overwhelming scientific data, the anti-ocean farming campaigns have oversimplified complex aquaculture issues leaving British Columbians in a fog of competing politicised agendas and misinformation.

The net effect has been to create and perpetuate a climate of public skepticism and opposition that has spilled over into the political realm said a study by researchers from the University of Victoria and the University of New Brunswick.

Unable to challenge the clarity of science, all initiatives and pronouncements to remove ocean-pen aquaculture operations to land-based farms are being underlined with the cloudy “precautionary principle”, which uses hypothetical theories, built to suit a bias agenda.

The accusations against fish farmers in B.C. are always aired by activist-friendly media, never with any suggestion of a reasonable solution.

This simply shows the anti-fish farming lobby’s agenda is not to “fix” or improve any perceived deficiency, but to end practices altogether for ulterior motives.

The Liberals, with their pre-election pledge have refused to see this.

Trudeau in the mandate letter also tells Jordan; “There remains no more important relationship to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

He goes on to urge her to use traditional Indigenous knowledge when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management.

This is political doublespeak at its finest.

Twenty BC First Nations now have partnership agreements for farming salmon in their territory and 78% of all salmon farmed in the province is under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.

In addition to that, 20% of salmon farming jobs are held by people of First Nations’ heritage.

The Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation and Mowi Canada West recently celebrated the 20-year anniversary of their partnership to farm salmon and process farmed fish at the plant in Klemtu.

None of the First Nations involved in salmon farming in B.C. were consulted about the pledge.

And when it comes to the use of traditional Indigenous knowledge, oral history, like that of the Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em people of the Broughton Archipelago, is ignored, because it does not fit the anti-fish farm narrative.

Over the ages, when the salmon don’t return, the Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em, have always had a name for it, referring to this cyclical natural phenomenon as Wayum’gallis or ‘the salmon not returning’.

And this was happening long before any fish farms started operating in B.C., according to Harold Sewid, Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em Clan Chief.

Perhaps the most glaring contradiction in the mandate letter is Canada’s commitment to be a world leader in the Blue Economy and its commitment to the U.N. Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities.

One of the pillars of these commitments is the sustainable harvesting of the oceans to replenish overfished wild stocks.

The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Oceans Economy, to which Trudeau is a signatory, has said “the largest potential carbon reduction gains for food production lie in the sustainable expansion of marine aquaculture.”

Just last month, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said developing industries like aquaculture is a win-win for a planet in need.

“With the world’s population to rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050, land alone will not feed us – we also need aquatic food production,” The agency’s Director General, Qu Dongyu said.

He called for increased investment and political will for sustainable ocean growth with the development of aquaculture.

In Canada, The Agri-food Report from the Government’s Economic Strategy Tables highlights aquaculture as one of the four priorities requiring immediate action citing the potential for the sector to nearly double production, from 200,565 tonnes in 2016, to 381,900 tonnes in 2028 to meet rising demand.

It pushes for a Federal Aquaculture Act (an idea which originated with B.C.’s salmon farmers) while calling for increased funding for fish farming initiatives.

Despite all this, Jordan, the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, is now saddled with a short-sighted pledge to kill a successful, responsible ocean-farming industry and replace it with alternatives that does not exist, have failed, or at the best being developed.

If Trudeau and his new team really want to make Canada a leader in the Global Blue Economy, they should drop this reckless and unachievable pledge.

They should go back to the drawing board and consult with the people who actually work in B.C.’s salmon farming industry, and not only the people who don’t want B.C.’s salmon farms to work.

This will give Jordan, a mandate that compliments Canada’s vision to be a world leader for healthier oceans, not contradict it.

(Facebook image of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadette Jordan)