Anti-salmon farming activists falsely accuse government scientists of rigging aquaculture research and rewriting a ministerial mandate.

Mandate muddle mars aquaculture transition plan in British Columbia

Anti-salmon farming activists falsely accuse government scientists of rigging aquaculture research and rewriting a ministerial mandate.

By Fabian Dawson

Frustrated that their fearmongering about salmon farming is being shunted in favour of a science-based decision-making process, anti-aquaculture activists are once again accusing Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff of rigging research and undermining a ministerial mandate.

The activist group calling itself the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance (FNWSA) held a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday to regurgitate their claims and theories. As is usual with this group, it did not provide any evidence to back their rhetoric.

And like before, the group also falsely claimed that Federal Government was walking back on its promise to remove open-net salmon farms in British Columbia by 2025.

Despite there being no such mandate to remove salmon farms from the ocean by 2025, the group along with its echo-chamber of aquaculture detractors, have been promoting this falsehood for several years now.

The Trudeau Liberals in a 2019 pre-election pledge, to primarily secure votes from the anti-fish farming lobby, had said it will come up with a plan to transition open-net aquaculture operations in BC by 2025.

In January 2020, then Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan clarified the 2025 deadline in her mandate letter is the date to “come up with a plan” and is not about getting all open-net salmon farms out of the ocean in five years. 

“The mandate letter is clear that I have to come up with a plan by 2025 and that’s what I will be doing,” Jordan told SeaWestNews then.

More recently, the current Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier re-emphasised that her mandate “doesn’t say that we have to close everything, that we have to close all the aquaculture centres. It really means working to put in place measures to protect wild salmon,” “I’ve confirmed that there will be no closure of aquaculture centres in 2025. We’re going to present a transition plan, and then we’ll go from there.”

The most current language regarding the BC salmon farming Transition Plan states; “The proposed vision of this open-net pen transition plan is to advance innovation and growth of sustainable aquaculture in British Columbia that progressively minimizes or eliminates interactions between open-net pens and wild salmon, while also taking into account social, cultural and economic objectives.”

In British Columbia, government decisions at the behest of activists, have already shut down 40% of salmon farms since 2020, increasing carbon emissions and wiping out jobs that are the lifeblood of rural, coastal and Indigenous communities.

Before the shutdowns the salmon farming sector was the largest agri-food export in British Columbia. The sector employed approximately 6,500 people, produced close to 500 million salmon meals per year, received inputs from over 1,000 individual suppliers and had an economic value of $2 Billion.

The Federal Government is now working with the industry, First Nations, coastal communities and other stakeholders to come up with a Transition Plan for salmon farming in British Columbia. 

So far at least 10 government studies and a range of court rulings have stated that the salmon farms have less than a minimal impact on migrating wild stocks.

The DFO has also pushed back against the false claims by the activists who are claiming that the government is ‘fixing’ the Transition Plan consultation process.

“DFO continues to engage with partners and stakeholders on the development of a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia.”

“Phase four of the consultation has just launched. The plan is expected to be released by 2025.  No final decisions have been made at this time related to the Transition Plan,” a DFO spokesperson told SeaWestNews.

The latest Press Conference is part of a concerted campaign by activist groups to influence the government’s pending transition plan for the marine aquaculture industry in British Columbia.

The campaign aims to discredit government scientists and weaken the legitimacy of regulatory agencies to bolster support and public donations for the activist groups.

Aside from the Transition Plan, the government is currently considering extending existing salmon farming licences to operate for a period of between two and six years. The permits to operate the farms are set to expire at the end of June.

Currently in BC, all existing salmon farms are supported by the First Nations communities that they operate in.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) is calling for the immediate renewal of long-term salmon farm licensing to encourage investments in emerging technologies as well provide Indigenous communities time to conduct research and trials on new technologies in their territories.

The long-term licensing proposal is part of a First Nations-led, science-backed, and industry supported plan for salmon aquaculture that is responsible, realistic, and achievable, said the Coalition.

The activists have also made recent fake claims attempting to link this year’s high returns of adult pink salmon to the closure of some salmon farms – all of which have been thoroughly debunked, based on data collated by professional biologists and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The group also has had its billboards and ads taken down in Ottawa and Vancouver earlier this month which contained false assertions about salmon farming.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations (GNN) met with government officials and MPs in Ottawa last week to reaffirm their traditional rights to grow salmon in their territories.

In an op-ed prior to the visit, the GNN said “For too long, the British Columbia salmon farming debate has been drowned out by fearmongering. Environmental activists paint aquaculture as a plague, demanding its immediate closure. Their cries ignore facts, silence First Nations like us, and threaten our very survival.

“While activists push a doomsday narrative, they neglect site-specific analysis and emerging technologies that can actually help wild stocks thrive. Worse, they ignore the harsh reality of remote First Nations like Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw.

“Salmon aquaculture is not just about salmon. It’s about justice, opportunity, and a future where First Nations thrive.”

The oped was signed by Chief Terry Walkus an elected chief of the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations, and Cyrus Singh, the CEO of the K’awat’si Economic Development Corporation.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said wild salmon protection and conservation is the main objective and the top priority for all involved in the Transition process.

“We are working hard with the Nations in whose territories we operate to meaningfully engage in the process and believe that the participation of all stakeholders is important. We acknowledge and respect the First Nation’s right to self-determination regarding salmon farming and marine management in their traditional territories,” said BCSFA in a statement.

(Image of a salmon farm in BC courtesy of Mowi)