Transfer permit issued to Yellow Island Aquaculture in the Discovery Islands is “in the interest of ocean science”, says Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray.

Minister issues fish transfer licence in contentious zone

Transfer permit issued to Yellow Island Aquaculture in the Discovery Islands is “in the interest of ocean science”, says Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray.

By Fabian Dawson

Ottawa has approved a fish transfer licence application by a small aquaculture operation in the controversial Discovery Islands, where salmon farmers have been told to cease operations.

The licence extension and transfer permit issued to Yellow Island Aquaculture is “in the interest of ocean science” said Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, in a statement.

Yellow Island Aquaculture Ltd. is a small, fully-integrated Pacific salmon hatchery and farm located on Quadra Island, which is part of the Discovery Islands, east of Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

In her statement, Minister Murray said; “The Yellow Island site supports a multi-year research program that has studied the effects of prebiotics and probiotics on Chinook salmon since 2018. The information collected here will contribute to improved understanding of salmon immunity.

“The scientists conducting the study requested a transfer of 3,000 Chinook salmon smolts from their hatchery to their Discovery Islands facility for an additional two months, to ensure they have consistent, reliable data for this year of their study. After carefully reviewing their application, and given the time-limited nature of the request, I have granted the licence extension and transfer permit, in the interest of ocean science.”

John Heath, President and Research Director of Yellow Island Aquaculture Ltd. told SeaWestNews that while he is pleased to receive permission to introduce the research fish to his net pen site, he is opposed to unilateral termination of aquaculture operations in large areas of the BC coast, including the Discovery islands.

“We view this as being unscientific, arbitrary, politically motivated and contrary to the long term best interests of the animals of the coastal communities in the province and of industrial investment as a whole in the province,” he said.

“We also feel that Yellow Island in particular, as a single site, family owned farm, has been uniquely adversely impacted by this decision.  As well, our highly productive marine biological research program and association with many world class academic facilities and people will be effectively terminated subsequent to the completion of these two ongoing projects.”

Murray’s predecessor, Bernadette Jordan, ordered the closure of 19 salmon aquaculture sites in the Discovery Islands one year ago,  at the behest of anti-fish farming activists, who had threatened to withhold votes for her Liberal party during the last election. She also banned any further transfer of fish in the area.

Jordan made the order after rebuffing her own scientists who conducted nine studies in the Discovery Islands to conclude that the farms, which have been operating in the area for more than three decades pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks.

The fish farmers are now awaiting the decision of a Federal Court judicial review of the former minister’s decision.

Last April, as the judicial review process was underway, the Federal Court ruled that fish farmers in BC’s Discovery Islands can continue stocking their ocean pens with baby salmon while they challenge Ottawa’s decision to remove them from the area.

“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.

However, Minister Jordan modified the rules to further deny fish transfer licences in the Discovery islands and thwarted Justice Pamel’s order.

Minister Murray, reaffirming that she will carry on the Discovery Islands decision to completion, said all previous applications to transfer fish in the area have been denied.

“In December 2020, Minister Jordan announced the licences for open-net pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands would only be renewed until the summer of 2022. This has resulted in a reduction of more than 3.5 million farmed salmon in the Discovery Islands since December 2020, and I will ensure the decision to phase out these 19 open-net pen farms is carried on to completion,” she said.

“We remain committed to responsibly transitioning from open-net pen salmon farming in all coastal British Columbia waters and introducing Canada’s first-ever Aquaculture Act, which will respect jurisdictions, and provide more transparency and certainty within the industry.”

The Discovery Islands decision, which is expected to kill 1,535 jobs, mainly in  coastal and indigenous communities. 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.”

(image of Minister Joyce Murray courtesy of Liberal Party of Canada)