Workers at Vancouver Island salmon hatchery among the first casualties of the Discovery Islands’ decision, which is expected to kill 1,535 aquaculture-related jobs, mainly in BC’s coastal and indigenous communities.

Job losses mount over BC salmon farm closures

Workers at Vancouver Island salmon hatchery among the first casualties of the Discovery Islands’ decision, which is expected to kill 1,535 aquaculture-related jobs, mainly in BC’s coastal and indigenous communities.

By Fabian Dawson

It was just about two weeks ago that Lance Page, sat down at his kitchen table to map out his retirement plans.

The 53-year old father of two,  projected he would be able to retire in 10 years from his job as the manager for Mowi Canada West’s Dalrymple salmon hatchery near Sayward on Vancouver Island.

That was until a few days ago, when he and 16 of his co-workers, were told Mowi was temporarily ceasing operations at its Dalrymple salmon hatchery.

“I am back to the drawing board now wondering what the future holds for me and my family,” said Page, a 22-year veteran of the aquaculture industry.

“Frankly we are all shocked and saddened and everyone here is reeling from the news,” said Page, who got his pink slip just as Vancouver-Quadra Liberal party MP Joyce Murray was being named as    Canada’s new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. 

Murray’s predecessor, Bernadette Jordan, made the secretive decision to shut down 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, which Dalrymple and other hatcheries in the area, were stocking.

The farms have been operating in the area for more than three decades and pose virtually no risks to migrating wild stocks in the area, nine recent peer-reviewed scientific studies by Canadian and international scientists have found.

“This operational decision is a direct result of the Liberal Government’s decision on December 17th, 2020 to cancel salmon farming licenses in the Discovery Islands,” said Dean Dobrinsky, spokesperson for Mowi Canada West.

The multi-million dollar state-of-the-art Dalrymple hatchery – one of three owned and operated by Mowi in the area – will be closed in May 2022, with a plan to restart when production requirements allow. That is expected to take at least three years.

The decision of the former Minister continues to challenge our company and has lasting implications. It is clearly evident her decision is far reaching, incredibly damaging to the communities where we operate and could have been mitigated had the Ministry engaged with our company to fully understand the impact on coastal communities who depend on this sector,” said Dobrinsky.

“Our heart goes out to those employees who built their career with Mowi and whose families relied on this hatchery for their livelihood.”

Mowi said it will look for opportunities within the organization for the affected employees and for now will rely on the continued production at its Big Tree Creek and Ocean Falls hatcheries for smolt supply.

Mowi Canada West and other affected companies in British Columbia are currently in Federal Court for a Judicial Review of the Discovery Islands decision, which was primarily pushed for by anti-salmon farming activists.

Page and his co-workers at the Dalrymple salmon hatchery, are among the first casualties of the Discovery Islands decision, which is expected to kill 1,535 jobs, mainly in BC’s coastal and indigenous communities.

It will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits damaging an industry that supports 6,500 livelihoods in the province.

The devastating economic fallout triggered by the closures of salmon farms in the remote Discovery Islands will also spread to Surrey – BC’s second largest city – killing 344 jobs, says an economic analysis .

The city risks losing $220 million in annual revenue, $46 million in GDP and $24 million in annual salaries, said the report, which described Surrey as “the hub of salmon farming in Metro Vancouver.”

Prior to the Discovery Islands’ decision, BC’s salmon farmers announced a new plan by BC salmon farmers 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, said a report by RIAS Inc., an independent economics consulting firm.

Many aspects of this plan are now on hold or have been cancelled because of the impending closures of the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands’ and a government pledge to transition away from open-net aquaculture operations in BC.

The transition could involve a range of technologies including hybrid grow-out operations, closed and semi-closed containment systems in the ocean together with an area-based management approach, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said.

A Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson told SeaWestNews that the government remains committed to delivering a real and concrete plan for transitioning marine net-pens in coastal BC waters.

“Over the past year, we have engaged with Canadians and Indigenous communities to gather views on the future of aquaculture in BC and received valuable feedback,” she said.

“Budget 2021 provided funding to assist in the development of this plan and to pilot the concept of area-based management. The department will continue to move forward in collaboration with the province, First Nations, industry and other partners on the next steps.”

(An aerial view of the Dalrymple salmon hatchery near Sayward on Vancouver Island.- image courtesy of Mowi Canada West)