Vancouver Island communities will lose more than 4,700 aquaculture-related jobs if the Federal Government does not renew 79 salmon farming licences immediately

Licences in limbo threaten thousands of aquaculture jobs

Vancouver Island communities will lose more than 4,700 aquaculture-related jobs if the Federal Government does not renew 79 salmon farming licences immediately

By Fabian Dawson

British Columbia’s indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities will lose more than 4,700 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if the Federal Government does not renew 79 salmon farming licences immediately, states a new independent economic analysis.

The Vancouver Island communities of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland, Port Hardy, Port McNeil, Tofino, Ucluelet, and Port Alberni will face the brunt of the devastating economic fallout if the licences, which are set to expire June 30, are not renewed.

Eighty per cent of these salmon farms operate in agreement with the First Nations in whose territories they operate in, said   the report by RIAS Inc. 

“Coastal communities in BC deserve better, especially during an ongoing pandemic that has already caused severe stress, mental health strain, and economic pressure on many families, households and communities,” said Ruth Salmon, Interim Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

“After years of instability and concern, these communities deserve a secure and prosperous future,” said Salmon.

The renewal of these licences have been in limbo after former Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan decided in Dec 2020 to phase out salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands, despite nine-peer reviewed studies that showed the marine operations 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 was primarily pushed for by anti-fish farm activists, who had threatened the Trudeau Liberals that they would withhold their votes for the party.

The closure of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, which had been operating for 35 years, has already resulted in scores of people, including 80 at a fish plant in Surrey, losing their jobs.

BC’s salmon farmers, who support about 6,500 full-time, year round jobs in the province, are awaiting a judicial review of the minister’s decision, while operating in an era of uncertainty.

“To minimize any further loss to coastal communities, BC Salmon Farmers need legitimate reissuance of all 79 licences,” said Salmon, who urged current   Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray , to visit the impacted coastal communities on Vancouver Island “to better understand the integral role salmon farming plays to the socio-economic wellness of these small towns.”

As part of the economic analysis, BC salmon farmers are calling for transparency in decision-making for the future of aquaculture licences.

“All three governments should consider a dashboard type platform that allows the public to see what information/data companies provide as part of the process,” BCSFA said.

The new economic report today, comes as the BC Government projected huge deficits over the next three years – $5.5 billion deficit planned for the 2022/2023 fiscal year, along with a $4.2 billion deficit in 2023/2024 and a $3.2 billion deficit in 2024/2025. 

It also follows a court decision in neighbouring Washington State which rejected the dubious studies and claims touted by anti-fish farm activists in the Pacific Northwest.

In a landmark 9-0 ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court 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.

“This State Supreme Court opinion lays to rest the array of disinformation about marine aquaculture being irresponsibly circulated by activist groups,” said Joel Richardson, Vice President of Public Relations for Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, which won the right to farm Pacific Steelhead trout in Puget Sound.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, a US Federal agency, is also planning to release further scientific documents soon that is expected to dismantle the falsehoods by the anti-fish farm activists.

But despite the voluminous science that show salmon farming operations in the Pacific Northwest have minimal impact on wild stocks, the Trudeau Liberals, bowing to demands from the anti-fish farming lobby, want to have a plan by 2025 to transition open-net fish farms in BC waters.

SeaWestNews has reached out to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Minister Murray for comment.


  • 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.

(image of a salmon farm employee courtesy of Mowi Canada West)