Ruling will not impact the future delivery of a responsible transition plan or the upcoming marine aquaculture licencing decision, states the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

Court rejects bid for judicial review of salmon farm closures

Ruling will not impact the future delivery of a responsible transition plan or the upcoming marine aquaculture licencing decision, states the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

By Fabian Dawson

A Federal Court has rejected the application by two First Nations and their aquaculture partners for a judicial review of the government’s closure of salmon farms in British Columbia’s contentious Discovery Islands.

The ruling found that former fisheries minister Joyce Murray, who had aligned herself with anti-salmon farming activists, met the “requirement of the duty to consult” with all stakeholders before making her decision to shut the open-net marine operations.

The written ruling from Judge Paul Favel also stated that Murray, did not breach procedural fairness, despite her own department scientists finding that the aquaculture operations posed less than a minimal risk to migrating wild stocks in the Discovery Islands area.

The original decision to shutter the open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands was made in 2020 by Murray’s predecessor Bernadette Jordan. Unable to get any answers from Jordan, salmon farmers in BC applied for a judicial review of her decision.

In 2022, a Federal Court ordered the government to set aside the 2020 decision due to procedural breaches by Jordan.

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 on Feb 17, 2023.

Both ministers ignored their own scientists, who found in 10 peer-reviewed government studies conducted by Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) that the farms had minimal impact on the wild fish migrating through the area.

They also dismissed findings by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) senior officials who clearly stated to the former Ministers that they “do not have a science basis to apply a higher level of precaution in the Discovery Islands area compared to elsewhere in BC.”

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 , as well as salmon farmers Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood, filed a second application in March 2023 with the Federal Court seeking a judicial review of Murray’s decision.

This second application was rejected late Friday.

Separately, the government is now considering renewing the licences of dozens of salmon farms in BC that are expiring this month, pending a transition process for the industry.

Current Fisheries and Oceans Minister Diane Lebouthillier has said there will be no more salmon farm closures in BC until the government has finalised the transition plan, which is expected by next year.

She has reportedly presented a plan to the Liberal cabinet to renew the existing licences of open net-pen Atlantic salmon farms for another eight to 10 years, giving the sector time to transition to systems that reduce interaction between wild and farmed salmon.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said it is disappointed to hear the result of the second judicial review decision.

“While this news is disheartening, there is still a collaborative pathway forward with the current Minister, as this decision was made by the preceding minister and will not impact the future delivery of a responsible transition plan or the upcoming licencing decision,” the association said in a statement.

“We will have more to say in the coming weeks after we have had time to review this decision in more detail.”

The Liberal government has already shut down 40% of salmon farms since 2020, wiping out hundreds of jobs that are the lifeblood of rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, to attract votes from the anti-fish farming lobby.

Before the shutdowns the salmon farming sector was the largest agri-food export in British Columbia. The sector employed approximately over 6,500 people, produced close to 500 million salmon meals per year, received inputs from over 1,000 individual suppliers and had an economic value of $2 Billion.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, which is fighting to retain its traditional rights to farm fish in its territorial waters, said salmon farming in BC directly and indirectly employs over 700 Indigenous people and provides $120 million in total annual economic benefits to First Nations, with $42 million going directly to Indigenous communities. Today, 100 per cent of BC’s farmed salmon is raised in agreement with Rights Holder First Nations.

The activist-driven government closures of fish farms in BC have also left Canadians facing soaring salmon prices and a whopping increase in carbon emissions, stated a new study published last week.

Canada is now buying more salmon from different parts of the world, with import quantities rapidly rising since 2021, states the study, predicting that local salmon prices will increase over CAD 30 per kilogram by 2026.

Here are excerpts from some of the earlier rulings on the closure of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands;

  • Federal Court Judge Panagiotis Pamel when granting an injunction that allowed fish farmers in BC’s Discovery Islands to continue stocking their ocean pens, while they challenged Ottawa’s decision to remove them from the area.

“The only evidence before me is that today, salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.

“The Minister (also) argues that we can infer that the First Nation communities that were consulted did not want to see any further transfer of new fish within the existing pens.

“However, another reading of the evidence would suggest that the concern regarding the continued issuance of transfer licences during the phase-out period was not first raised by the First Nation communities, but rather emanated from a suggestion from the Minister. I suspect further clarification is required.”

  •  Federal Court Judge Mandy Aylen when rejecting attempts by anti-fish farm activist, Alexandra Morton, to influence its pending decision on the future of salmon aquaculture in BC’s Discovery Islands.

“Morton’s proposed affidavit contains untested hearsay evidence, contains improper opinion evidence under the guise of being factual evidence.

 “(It) constitutes an attack on the science presented by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and goes far beyond providing general background information” (to assist the court).

  • Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan when ordering the government to set aside its decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

“In my opinion, failure of the Minister (Jordan) to provide reasons in her Decision of December 16, 2020, amounts to a breach of procedural fairness. The consequences of the Decision in this case are significant and the Minister owed a duty to provide reasons.

“The Decision, in the absence of reasons, cannot be justified. In the absence of reasons, it is not transparent. In the absence of reasons, it is not intelligible,”

(Image shows former Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray and her predecessor Bernadette Jordan)