“Great friend of Canadian aquaculture” appointed to Senate

Mary Robinson, a dynamic national champion of land and sea farmers, was the past-president of Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA).

By Fabian Dawson

Mary Robinson, whose unwavering commitment to Canadian land and sea farmers helped the nation navigate food security challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been appointed to the Senate.

Robinson from Prince Edward Island, made history as the first female President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), steering the organization from 2019 to 2023.

Prior to her role at CFA, she served as the first female Chair at the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council, held the presidency of the PEI Federation of Agriculture from 2015 to 2017, and joined the Board of Directors of the World Farmers’ Organization (WFO) in 2020. In recognition of her global impact, Mary was elected Vice-President of the World Farmers Organization in May 2023.

“Ms. Robinson’s experience in agriculture and business will bring an important perspective to the Senate, where she will be a strong voice for Atlantic Canada. I look forward to working with her to make life better for Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in   a statement.

“She serves as an inspirational leader for women in agriculture throughout Canada,” he said.

Robinson is a managing partner of a 6th generation family farm operation, Eric C. Robinson Inc. and its sister company Island Lime and serves on the boards of associated companies PEI Agromart and Mid-Isle Farms.

As a proud representative of the Robinson family’s agricultural legacy in Augustine Cove, Prince Edward Island, Mary Robinson’s appointment to the Senate reflects her deep-rooted commitment to advancing Canadian interests, said the CFA in a statement.

“Mary has consistently been a stalwart leader and advocate for Canadian agriculture. We are thrilled to see someone of her caliber, with extensive knowledge, expertise, and a profound understanding of agriculture, join the Senate,” said CFA president Keith Currie.

Tim Kennedy, President and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA), which is a member of the CFA, tweeted his congratulations on the appointment describing Robinson as a “great friend of Canadian aquaculture’.

“She is a unique leader – a champion of Canadian farmers and food production, with a big picture view but with very real and practical experience as a farmer and businessperson in PEI. With her leadership internationally with the World Farm Organization, she also has great international perspective on how much potential Canada has to provide top-quality food for the world,” Kennedy told SeaWestNews.

 “She has been a strong and dedicated supporter of the aquaculture sector and bringing us more fully into the farming community. Seafood farmers are farmers, and under Mary’s leadership the CFA whole-heartedly supported our application and ensured our voice was being heard.”

In 2021, after the controversial decision to phase out salmon farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands, Robinson who was then CFA president in an open letter to Trudeau, wrote:

“Despite the importance your government has placed on transparency, consulting with Canadians and making science and evidence-based decisions, the decision to close the salmon farms seems to contradict these principles. This food sector has been the subject of exhaustive reviews and scientific study to determine any impacts on wild salmon populations.

“Because the farms passed this high bar of performance, the process for renewing federal licenses should have been fair and taken into account this performance, the science, and community impact. Unfortunately, it did not.

“We urge the federal government to immediately develop a growth plan for the aquaculture sector, especially for the salmon sector in British Columbia, to enable the sustainable growth of the sector and provide clarity and certainty for investment.

“We also ask your government to explicitly identify a federal department to champion the economic growth of the aquaculture sector.”

Earlier this year, Robinson was part of a group which published an op-ed calling for more collaboration with Canada’s salmon farmers.

“Salmon farming can be part of the answer to meeting Canada’s ambitious goals on other fronts – such as employment opportunities, improved human health and prosperity, and reducing carbon emissions. It is time to put our collective efforts together to grow more food more smartly in Canada, not less,”  the op-ed stated. 

“Aquaculture is agriculture and it’s good to have someone in the Senate of this calibre…who understands the seafood farming industry and what it means to our coastal communities and First Nations,” said a veteran salmon farmer in BC.

In Canada, while the opportunity to sustainably produce more salmon in Canada is unparalleled in the world the Trudeau government has been unduly influenced by aquaculture detractors and activists rather than relying on science and traditional indigenous knowledge to grow the industry.

About 40 per cent of the British Columbia’s in-ocean salmon farming sector has already been closed, despite government scientists and court rulings stating that the salmon farms 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 the Discovery Islands.

The Federal Government is also currently working on an aquaculture Transition Plan for BC, expected in 2024. It will impact 79 open-net farms in BC which have been licensed to operate till next June and about 5,000 jobs.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship is calling for immediate renewal of long-term salmon farm licensing for nine years in BC as part of the transition process.

Canada’s seafood farmers have also been calling on Ottawa to develop a Federal Aquaculture Act that will provide a modern legal framework for managing Canada’s marine aquaculture sector.

(Image courtesy of CFA shows Mary Robinson, Canada’s newest senator)