Joyce Murray’s short and controversial tenure as Fisheries Minister leaves behind a legacy of unfinished business in BC’s salmon farming industry.

Fisheries Minister quits amidst aquaculture challenges in BC

Joyce Murray’s short and controversial tenure as Fisheries Minister leaves behind a legacy of unfinished business in BC’s salmon farming industry.

By Fabian Dawson

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, who has ignored her own scientists while pushing an activist-driven agenda to shutter salmon farms in the waters of British Columbia, is quitting federal politics.

Murray tweeted her intentions not to run in the next elections, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau huddled with his advisors today to work on a major cabinet reshuffle. The new cabinet lineup is expected tomorrow.

Several other ministers have also announced they will be bowing out of federal politics before the next election.

“After much thought and reflection, I have decided not to run again in the next election after my current term. My work in politics and time serving my community both federally and provincially as an elected official has been the honour of my life,” tweeted Murray.

When appointed Fisheries Minister in 2021, Murray was the sixth Fisheries Minister in just six years to helm a challenging portfolio that has seen 22 ministers since 1979, most of whom lasted less than two years in office.

It is unclear whether she will retain her Fisheries portfolio until her current term expires or be replaced immediately as Trudeau hunts for new ministers from a more committed cabal in the Liberal party ranks.

Despite her record as being opposed to open-net salmon farms in BC’s oceans, which generates over $1.2 billion for the provincial economy and creates thousands of jobs, Murray was mandated to oversee a Transition Plan for the province’s salmon farming industry.

Formal engagement on the Transition Plan began between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), salmon farmers, First Nations, and other stakeholders in July 2022.

Earlier this month, Murray officially told BC’s salmon farmers that the future of their industry will likely only be determined sometime next year after more consultations with First Nations, coastal communities and other stakeholders.

While the opportunity to sustainably produce more salmon in Canada is unparalleled in the world the Liberal government has been unduly influenced by aquaculture detractors and activists rather than relying on science and traditional indigenous knowledge to grow the industry, a recent Indigenous conference in Vancouver heard.

About 40 per cent of the BC in-ocean salmon farming sector has already been closed, despite DFO scientists and court rulings stating that the salmon farms in BC pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks.

There are now several legal challenges mounted by First Nations, aquaculture service and supply companies, and salmon farmers, over the decisions to shut down fish farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Minister Murray was also warned by her senior staff that there is not enough evidence to substantiate her decision to shut down the 15 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, SeaWestNews reported. 

Her work and leadership on the Transition File over the past year has been roundly criticized by First Nations, salmon farmers and even the industry’s detractors.

Members of the BC-based Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFSS) have accused Murray of being “biased and untrustworthy” and said she is denying First Nations the ability to determine for themselves whether they want salmon farming in their traditional territories.

The coalition is calling for a reset in the Transition Process and consultations led by Murray.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said in a statement last May that Murray has not followed her own engagement plan, affecting the ability of participants to engage effectively, including the First Nations and salmon farming organizations.

“We have had to deal with constantly changing processes, deliverables, and extremely challenging deadlines. How do you achieve success when the DFO Minister keeps changing the rules and timelines,” the statement said.

Even the activists that Murray has been favouring with her rulings seem unhappy at her handling of the transition file.

One of them, Alexandra Morton, has claimed Minister Murray had betrayed her election promise   to transition open-net finfish farms to land-based operations in BC.

“I am beyond disgusted – Federal Liberals have decided to betray BC Coast”’ Morton said in a Facebook posting, claiming Minister Murray “has now turned and is going to work with them (salmon farmers) ….”

“Canada Fisheries Minister’s transition plan could take (the) mandate to move salmon farms to closed-containment systems off the table…Murray said transitioning to closed containment systems is no longer part of her mandate,” she wrote on Facebook.

In an open letter last May to Trudeau, the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) called out the uncertainty, confusion, and lack of due process caused by Murray, through her active disregard of her departmental science advisory process as it relates to the future of the BC salmon farming sector.

“Prime Minister, no resource-based sector in this country is able to operate with the level of uncertainty that has been created by Minister Murray’s rejection of a government science evaluation and advisory process. This is a very dangerous precedent,” CAIA said.

CAIA, which is the national association that speaks for Canada’s seafood farmers, has asked the following questions in their open letter;

1) Canadians are being asked to trust government science. Why is Minister Murray being allowed to ignore evidence-based and peer-reviewed DFO science advice on salmon aquaculture?

2) What science advice is Minister Murray basing her decisions on and why is this advice deemed more reliable than government-reviewed science advice?

3) Closing farms has devastating impacts on coastal and Indigenous communities, food prices and food availability for Canadians, and increased carbon emissions. Have studies been undertaken to understand the scope of negative social and economic impacts and is there any serious peer-reviewed evidence that shows that shutting down farms will bring back wild salmon?

“The Minister is circumventing the government’s own principles of evidence-based policy and undermining this Liberal government’s promises of Indigenous reconciliation and clean economic growth,” said CAIA President and CEO Timothy Kennedy.

“She is instead relying on advice from other scientists connected to her activist friends outside the federal review process.”

Federal Minister of Fisheries Joyce Murray speaks at the recent Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers’ meeting.