First Nations and salmon farmers seek judicial review of minister’s aquaculture decision that prevents them from raising fish in the Discovery Islands of British Columbia.

Controversial salmon farming decision heads back to court

First Nations and salmon farmers seek judicial review of minister’s aquaculture decision that prevents them from raising fish in the Discovery Islands of British Columbia.

By Fabian Dawson

Two British Columbia First Nations are asking the courts to overturn a Federal Government aquaculture decision that prevents them from farming salmon in their traditional territories, commonly referred to as the Discovery Islands.

The Wei Wai Kum First Nation (Campbell River Indian Band), and We Wai Kai First Nation (Cape Mudge Indian Band), collectively known as The Laich-kwil-tach Nation yesterday filed an application with the Federal Court seeking a judicial review of the decision made by Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray on Feb 17, 2023.

Murray, the First Nations claim, has usurped their rights as titleholders in the Discovery Islands and the surrounding area; the right to decide how their lands and waters would be used and the right to the economic benefits of their lands, waters and resources.

This has caused “the loss of an estimated $12.3 million in annual direct economic benefits from the lands, waters and resources in form of full-time jobs, benefit-sharing agreements, and contracts with indigenous-owned companies who provide further indigenous employment.”

According to the court documents, the First Nations want to see all correspondence, documents and science considered by the minister and her delegates that led to Murray making the decision.

Alongside this application for a judicial review, BC’s largest salmon farmers are also heading back to court to seek answers as to why the Trudeau government wants to shut down their operations in the Discovery Islands when their own scientists say the aquaculture operations pose less than a minimal risk to migrating stocks.

Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada Ltd. and Grieg Seafood BC Ltd. yesterday filed a Notice of Application for Judicial Review regarding the recent Discovery Island license decision by Murray, which she made on February 17, 2023.

“Grieg is disappointed in the decision and the implication it could have on both BC and Canada,” the company said in a statement.

“The filing will allow Grieg to access DFO documents which will provide insight into the decision-making process of the Minister, which is important to understand for future planning and development.”

Mowi in a statement said: “The continued absence of procedural fairness afforded by both Ministers (Murray and her predecessor Bernadette Jordan) throughout the process of licensing renewals within the Discovery Islands region leaves our company no other option than to seek the court’s intervention.”

The original decision to shutter 19 open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands was made in 2020 by former Fisheries minister Jordan.

Unable to get any answers from Jordan, the salmon farmers applied for a judicial review of the government’s decision.

Last April, the Federal Court ordered the government to set aside the decision due to procedural breaches by Jordan, and reaffirmed an earlier ruling that all the evidence provided showed  “salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.”

Murray, who took over Jordan’s portfolio after the last election, then ordered up consultations with the stakeholders to meet the procedural requirements before making the same decision as her predecessor.

Separately, Murray and her officials are also working on implementing an open-net pen transition plan for all of BC, expected to be finalized in the Spring of 2023.

Prior to the latest court filings, a coalition of First Nations called for the removal of minister Murray saying she can’t be “trusted” to make a thoughtful and unbiased plan in regard to the future of salmon farming in British Columbia.

Murray, a prominent advocate to end open-net salmon farming in BC, ordered the shutdown of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, despite the government’s own scientists producing 10 extensive peer-reviewed reports showing the marine operations have virtually no impact on wild stocks migrating through the area.

In their court filing the Wei Wai Kum First Nation and We Wai Kai First Nation said Murray also ignored their detailed proposal to reintroduce salmon farming in their core traditional territory with seven sites.

“As the Proposal makes clear, in seeking the re-issuance of aquaculture licenses, the Nation does not necessarily intend to permit the operation of active fish farms on the Co-Management Sites. Rather, it intends to determine for itself if, when, and how the seven chosen farms are operated in the future,” the filing said.

“After the disrespectful and damaging decision to close salmon farms in my territory in the Discovery Islands without consent of Rightsholder First Nations, we as a Coalition can no longer trust that Minister Murray can deliver a thoughtful, unbiased transition plan for the remaining salmon farms in the sovereign territories of Nations that wish to host them,” Chris Roberts, Elected Chief Councillor of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation said at a media conference in Ottawa recently.

The We Wai Kai in a Facebook posting described the minister’s Discovery Islands’ decision as “unlawful, unreasonable and unfair.”

(A fish farm in BC – image courtesy of Grieg Seafood BC Ltd)