“If this was an industry other than salmon aquaculture, there would be an inquiry into the minister’s actions.”

Minister abandons science, salmon, First Nations, for votes

“If this was an industry other than salmon aquaculture, there would be an inquiry into the minister’s actions.”

By Fabian Dawson

Canada’s Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan keeps insisting she has full confidence in her scientists and the people who work for her in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

But she won’t listen to them.

For her and the Liberal party, urban votes churned by anti-fish farm activists are more important than science, salmon, and First Nations reconciliation.

This perplexing preference is once again on full display, as court records show Minister Jordan denied her department’s recommendation to allow the application by fish farmer, Cermaq Canada, to complete one last transfer of juvenile Atlantic salmon into two of its farms in the Discovery Islands.

Timothy Sargent, DFO deputy minister, told Jordan in a memo, that there is no new science or novel information that should prevent the final transfer application.

Cermaq also had the consent of the Wei Wai Kum Nation – in whose territory both the farms are located – a deal that would have allowed for shared wild salmon conservation initiatives, an economic transition, capacity building, the creation of a Guardian program (Nation oversight of Cermaq’s operations in its territory), and knowledge sharing.

“Initially, we had believed that the Liberal government of Canada was one which built on the principals of inclusivity and was led by a belief and trust in Canadian-led research and science, as well as fundamental support for further truth and reconciliation in Canada,” said David Kiemele, Cermaq Canada’s Managing Director.

“From where we stand today, it appears that the decisions…are not in fact supportive of these positions but are instead aimed at securing urban Liberal votes,” he said.

“Once again, a hardworking sector is blindsided and deemed unimportant in the face of an upcoming election.

“The inability of Minister Jordan to provide an adequate statement as to why she has denied our requests, to us, points to motives outside of science and social license and likely towards securing urban votes as we head into an anticipated late-summer election.”

This is not the first time Minister Jordan has sidelined her staff and their scientific recommendations opting for “social licence and acceptability” to benefit the fact-deficit anti-fish farm lobby.

Last December, she announced the removal of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands’ which will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits, and 1,535 fewer jobs, mainly in coastal communities of Vancouver Island.

That decision flies in the face of nine-peer reviewed scientific studies that found farmed salmon pose minimal risks to migrating wild stocks in the Discovery Islands – a pre-requisite by the Cohen Commission for the continued operations of the farms in the area.

The fish farmers applied for a judicial review of the minister’s Dec 17th decision and won an injunction allowing them to continue transferring their salmon into the ocean farms pending a Federal Court ruling on the entire planned phase out. This hearing is scheduled for October.

“The only evidence before me is that today, salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon” said  Mr. Justice Panagiotis Pamel, in granting the injunction.

Minister Jordan then suddenly changed the policies governing the transfer of fish in BC’s Discovery Islands, to thwart the court order and keep denying applications by the fish farmers.

In an attempt to get some clarity, Cermaq went back to court to challenge the denial of its transfer applications in the Discovery Islands.

Last week, Judge Cecily Strickland dismissed this application saying that the spirit of Cermaq’s motion was that the minister should be precluded from making changes to the fish transfer process. The judge did not agree that the minister is constrained from doing that.

“While Cermaq Canada is disappointed in the decision, it was the discoveries made during the injunction process, which were not previously available to Cermaq or the Wei Wai Kum Nation, which were so disheartening for both organizations,” said Kiemele.

“We are also surprised to see that the Minister has ignored her departments advice in favour of what we can only assume is a politically driven agenda. Her recent decision to revoke 60 per cent of commercial fishing licenses in BC – again blindsiding the commercial fishers in their own words – shows her lack of understanding of rural coastal communities, First Nations rights and the reconciliation process, and the role that all seafood needs to play in order to support a growing global population.”

Linda Sams, Cermaq Canada’s Sustainable Development Director said both the Wei Wai Kum Nation and her company have been working hard to find middle ground and offer solutions to Minister Jordan which would not only support her plan to develop a Blue Economy and support wild salmon, but also support the overall Liberal governments commitment to truth and reconciliation in Canada.

“In the coming days we will be looking to further understand the decision as well as reaching out to the Wei Wai Kum Nation to determine how we can support them,” she said.

“Overall, this is a sad day for us as an organization, for our employees and the local communities who rely on local industry such as salmon farming. It is also a blow to First Nations and their struggle to assert self-determination and to have their rights recognized within their own territories.”

When asked why Minister Jordan is consistently overruling the science-based recommendations by her staff, her office told SeaWestNews the decision to deny Cermaq’s applications regarding fish farms in the Discovery Islands was a very difficult one.

“It was made after careful consideration of multiple factors, including environmental and socio-economic concerns, as well as input from Indigenous communities and the aquaculture industry. “We considered the concerns and priorities from across the region when making this decision.  “This decision is about a unique set of circumstances, and it does not apply to other farms or companies across the province,” the Minister’s office said.

An industry official, said the ministers words do not mean much to the industry, the people who work in it and the coastal communities in BC that depend on aquaculture.

“She is simply pandering to the activists and Liberal party businessmen donors who want to get taxpayer dollars to kill a sustainable industry and replace it with land-based fish tanks,” he said.

“If this was an industry other than salmon aquaculture, there would be an inquiry into the minister’s actions,” he added.

(File image of Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan)