Mowi Canada West files injunction to suspend Federal Government order that compels it to kill 12 million healthy salmon, which could provide 235 million meals.

Mowi in court to stop mass salmon slaughter

Mowi Canada West files injunction to suspend Federal Government order that compels it to kill 12 million healthy salmon, which could provide 235 million meals.

By Fabian Dawson

The Federal government’s sudden decision to stop salmon farming in the waters off Discovery Islands in BC is compelling Mowi Canada West to kill 12 million healthy juvenile Atlantic salmon, which could provide 235 million meals.

To stop this, Mowi Canada West, BC’s largest salmon farmer, filed an injunction against the Federal Government today seeking time to grow out the fish – most of which are about three years old – to market size.

The company has also commenced layoff notices to 168 employees directly impacted by the Discovery Islands decision announced last December by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, without the input of the industry and local coastal communities.

“We were shocked last December 17th when Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan announced the end of salmon farming in the Discovery Islands effective June 2022,” said Dr. Diane Morrison, managing director of Mowi Canada West.

“Without those farms we will lose about 30 percent of our annual production, resulting in devastating cuts to our workforce. These decisions mean that we have 12 million healthy, growing fish with no place to grow out to market-size.”

Last month, Mowi was forced to kill 925,000 healthy baby salmon as a result of the Discovery Island decision, because they could not be transferred to sea sites for the initial phase of their grow out.

Today’s application to the Federal Court primarily seeks to suspend certain aspects of the Discovery Island’s policy and allow the transfer of the 12 million salmon to Mowi’s Phillips Arm and Hardwicke farm sites.

“The damage done to our company, to our people, to our investment, and to the communities in which we operate is clear and immediate and a direct result of federal government decisions,” said Dr. Morrison.

“Despite repeated requests Minister Jordan has not spoken with us since her decision… we would have preferred to avoid legal action but the government’s refusal to consider alternative plans or even have a dialogue has forced our hand,” she said.

Today’s injunction application comes after Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood BC, asked the Federal Court for a judicial review of the government decision, that was pushed for by anti-fish farming activists, who without any credible evidence, say that the farms endanger migrating wild stocks.

Minister Jordan also largely ignored nine peer reviewed scientific studies by her own department, which showed that salmon farms in the area had only minimal impact on wild stocks migrating through the waters off Discovery Islands.

Most of the sockeye salmon that head to sea from the Fraser River and back to their spawning grounds, travel through the waters around Discovery Islands where 19 salmon farms have operated during the past 35 years.

The unexpected decision to close the 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands 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 remote coastal communities of BC, according to industry estimates.

Prior to the Discovery Islands’ decision, BC’s salmon farmers announced they were planning 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.

But the Discovery Islands decision, which flies in the face of peer-reviewed science, that showed salmon farms in the area had little or no impact on wild stocks, has had a chilling effect on the investment plans, said John Paul Fraser, executive director of the   BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA). 

Dean Dobrinsky, Mowi’s human resources director said the Discovery Islands’ decision, which was hasty, unscientific and without a plan, has put in peril about 1,500 livelihoods in Vancouver Island’s coastal communities, where there are few other options.

“I just came from a staff meeting where a 27-year employee asked me if he can still keep his job for another 10 years…I couldn’t answer him…it’s been almost three months since the minister made the decision and there has been no outreach and no plan,” he told SeaWestNews.

Except for the anti-fish farming lobby, orchestrated in urban voter-rich Liberal party territories, all stakeholders have criticized the pre-Christmas decision by Minister Jordan.

BC Premier John Horgan has chastised it. First Nation leaders call it a hollow decision forced upon them. The salmon farmers were not consulted, neither were the coastal communities of North Vancouver Island and aquaculture scientists have labelled it an “affront to science”.

All are claiming they were not given a fair shake at providing input for the decision.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) responding to the criticism said the decision to phase out the fish farms in the Discovery Islands was made by Minister Jordan after consultation and consideration of many factors.

“While the culling of any fish would be unfortunate, industry leaders would have known for months prior, if not years, that a final decision would be made by December 2020 regarding the future of the farms. The Cohen Commission recommended this over a decade ago, and the licenses in that area were only ever renewed on a yearly basis for that reason.”

The Cohen Commission actually recommended that the federal fisheries minister should prohibit net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands by September 30, 2020 unless satisfied that such farms pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.

Nine peer-reviewed scientific studies over eight years have shown farmed salmon pose minimal risk of less than one percent to the abundance and diversity of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon in the area, said Dobrinsky.

“DFO’s assertion that we should have known about the impending closures does not make sense…DFO found minimal risks as what the Cohen Commission suggested, so why would we be anticipating a shutdown.”

Minister Jordan in a post announcement interview with SeaWestNews agreed that science took a back seat to social licence when she made her decision on the Discovery Islands.

“You know, science plays an extremely important role in all of our decision making but it is not the only thing we use when we are making decisions,” she said.