New ruling reaffirms that “salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon”, countering the false claims by anti-fish farm activists.

Federal Court rejects ministerial bid to shut down BC salmon farms

New ruling reaffirms that “salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon”, countering the false claims by anti-fish farm activists.

By Fabian Dawson

The Federal Court has ordered the government to set aside its decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, which otherwise would have decimated the local economies of indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities on Vancouver Island.

The court also upheld an earlier injunction , which allows the salmon farmers to continue stocking their ocean pens in the Discovery Islands, reaffirming that “salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.”

Pressured by the anti-salmon lobby, which threatened to withhold it’s support for the Trudeau Liberals, former Fisheries Minister, Bernadette Jordan ordered the closure of 19 salmon aquaculture sites in the Discovery Islands on December 16, 2020.

Salmon farmers Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada, Grieg Seafood BC and 622335 BC Ltd, unable to get any answers from the government, applied for a judicial review of the government’s decision.

Justice Elizabeth Heneghan, in her 66-page ruling made public today, found that former Minister Jordan, breached procedural fairness when she announced the closures via a press release. The press statement said all the 19 farms must be free of fish by June 30, 2022, when their 18-month licences expire, and that no new fish can be brought in. The renewal of these licences and another 60 licences, which also expire on June 30, remain in limbo.

Justice Heneghan also ruled that the former minister failed to provide reasons for her decision.

“In my opinion, failure of the Minister 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,” said Justice Heneghan.

“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,” she ruled.

Former minister Jordan made her decision despite nine-peer reviewed studies that showed the 35-year-old aquaculture operations in the Discovery Islands, had virtually no impact on wild stocks migrating through the area.

She also ignored her deputy minister’s recommendation for a more coordinated approach to the closures, which were primarily pushed for by anti-fish farm activists, who had threatened the Trudeau Liberals that they would withhold their votes for the party.

Bowing to the science-deficit demands of the activists, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has mandated the current Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray continue to come up with a plan to transition all open-net salmon farms in BC by 2025.

DFO told SeaWestNews that the Minister is aware of the court’s ruling in the case  and will be making a decision on next steps in the case in due course.

“She remains committed to transitioning away from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters and is actively consulting with industry, Indigenous partners and other orders of government on the plan,” a DFO spokesperson said. 

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said it is “encouraged that the Federal Court has set aside the Decision of the Minister to remove salmon farming in the Discovery Islands and has upheld the earlier injunction granted on April 5, 2021.”

This is a positive development for the coastal Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in which we operate, and the thousands of family-supporting jobs our sector sustains. We will be reaching out to First Nations in whose territories we operate to review this decision and will have more to say in the following days and weeks ahead,” said BCSFA spokesperson Michelle Franze, in a statement.

In its entirety, Minister Jordan’s unexpected Discovery Islands’ decision would have seen 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 the coastal communities of Vancouver Island.

Her announcement of Dec 16, 2020 has already resulted in scores of people, including 80 at a fish plant in Surrey, losing their jobs.

Prior to that announcement, BC’s salmon farmers announced they were planning to directly invest $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology and infrastructure, to boost Canada’s post pandemic recovery. 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.

Last Friday’s Federal Court decision comes in the wake of a landmark 9-0 ruling, by the Washington State Supreme Court which found the claims about disease and sea lice impacting wild stocks, that have been falsely and widely propagated by anti-fish farm activists in the Pacific Northwest, to be without merit.

Rejecting the dubious studies trotted out by the activists, including some originating from British Columbia, the court upheld a permit granted to Cooke Aquaculture Pacific for the farming of Pacific Steelhead trout in Washington State.

(Image shows former Fisheries Minister, Bernadette Jordan)

By the numbers

  • In 2019, BC’s salmon farming sector generated over $1.6 billion in total economic output, $577 million in total GDP, and employment for 6,370 workers in BC.
  • Significant investments that BC salmon farmers were planning to make over the next 30 years that would add considerable additional economic stimulus to BC’s post-COVID economy: over $44 billion in increased economic activity with over 9,400 new jobs for BC workers created by 2050
  • Farm-raised salmon is BC’s highest valued seafood product and the province’s top agricultural export, generating over $1.6 billion towards the BC economy, resulting in nearly 6,400 jobs
  • BC Salmon Farmers hold agreements with 17 First Nations on B.C.’s coast.
  • Farmed salmon accounts for more than 75 per cent of all the salmon harvested in British Columbia every year, helping to alleviate pressure on harvesting of critically endangered wild stocks.

Impact of the Discovery Islands decision

  • More than 24% of BC’s farmed salmon production is being shut down.
  • More than 1,500 people will lose their jobs in the near term. This includes at least 690 direct salmon farming jobs across the entire production cycle — broodstock farms, hatcheries, smolt farms, ocean farms, and primary processing; 630 jobs within BC businesses supplying goods and services to the salmon farming sector and more than 200 induced jobs in local businesses where workers in the BC salmon farming sector spend their income — as diverse as grocery stores and vehicle dealerships.
  • In total, almost $390 million in annual economic output in BC will be lost, 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.
  • It is estimated that more than 10.7 million young salmon and fertilized eggs in hatcheries and other facilities and which were designated to be raised in the impacted farms will have to be euthanized. This is equivalent to over 210 million meals worth of fish or about two years’ worth of the province’s total harvest of wild salmon.