Ocean salmon farming ban in BC puts thousands of jobs at risk

“Many of us have recently bought houses and are starting families, and now we have no idea what our future holds…we as young people are tired of this juvenile behaviour from a willfully ignorant government,” – Young Salmon Farmers of BC

By Fabian Dawson

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) warns that Ottawa’s ban on open-net salmon aquaculture in British Columbia will jeopardize the future of the nation’s vital farming industry and trigger adverse ripple effects on food security across the country.

Representing 190,000 farm families across Canada, the CFA said the Liberal government’s decision sends a concerning signal for those looking to invest in Canadian agriculture, hurting not only the future prospects of Canada’s farmers but also the coastal communities and First Nations that have partnerships with salmon farmers.

“This decision threatens the future of thousands of workers, approximately 500 of which are held by Indigenous people, will take away $1.2 billion in economic output, and hinder ongoing investments in improved environmental performance,” said Keith Currie, CFA President.

Furthermore, the CFA is concerned that this decision undermines the federal government’s commitments to science-based decision-making and the support for rural coastal communities, he said.

“Rather than present a responsible plan that advances incremental protections for wild salmon and supports the sector in their continuous adoption of innovative new protection measures, the plan put forward presents no viable pathway to maintain the sector’s food production and economic contributions,” he said.

Denying the science of its own fisheries experts that show the ocean-based aquaculture operations pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks and bowing to the demands of activists to get their votes, the Liberal government yesterday announced that it will ban open-net salmon farming in BC after 2029.

Current open-net salmon farming licences, which expire this month, will be extended for five years after which the government will only consider applications for closed-containment facilities on land and in water.

The decision makes a mockery of the Liberals promise to deliver science-based decisions regarding the future of salmon farming in BC and walks back on the pledge of economic reconciliation with First Nations, said Indigenous community leaders.

“The limited license duration increases uncertainty, threatening the stability of the agricultural sector and the communities that depend on it,” said Currie, urging the federal government to reconsider its approach and ensure decisions are grounded in robust scientific evidence to promote long-term stability and growth for the sector.

“It is essential for the government to provide longer-term stability to enable the salmon farming sector to recover from recent declines and to continue contributing to Canada’s economic growth through innovation and sustainable practices,” added Currie.

The BC Agriculture Council (BCAC), which represents about 20,000 farm families in the province, said many thousands of jobs in remote and Indigenous communities in B.C. rely upon a strong salmon farming sector and a predictable environment for investment.

“British Columbians have clearly indicated that their top issues of concern are access to affordable housing and food, as well as access to quality healthcare, not the closure of any food-producing industries,” said BCAC President, Jennifer Woike.

“Salmon farming is highly regulated in Canada. It has also reached a historic milestone, whereby 100% of the remaining farm production is under agreement with local rights-holder First Nations. This should be an achievement that all governments celebrate,” she said.

The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations (GNN) said they are deeply disturbed by federal government’s unilateral decision on finfish aquaculture without consent or proper consultation on the alternatives.

The GNN, which is part of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, said it views the Liberal government’s decision as an attempt to extinguish constitutionally guaranteed Indigenous rights, titles and interests that the 1,200 strong Vancouver Island community has never acquiesced, ceded or surrendered.

“This is devastating – our finfish operations lifted us from poverty to prosperity and now there is no clear path forward,” said Chief Terry Walkus.

“Changing the course of our industry so profoundly without consultation or consent is unacceptable,” he said.

Cyrus Singh, CEO of the K’awat’si Economic Development Corporation which guides economic growth for GNN, said the government appears to have prioritized privileged activists over Indigenous communities reliant on finfish aquaculture. 

The Young Salmon Farmers of BC said it is ashamed that the federal government put young Canadians’ livelihoods on the line for a chance at another term, as two-thirds of the BC salmon farming sector is under 35.

“It’s obvious the current government does not care about supporting wild Pacific salmon or young Canadians,” said Michelle Franze, co-founder and co-director of the Young Salmon Farmers of BC.

“Politics will always trump the well-being of Canadians and the environment, and we as young people are tired of this juvenile behaviour from a willfully ignorant government.”

This decision will continue to cause fear and anxiety for young people, as the fate of their careers is unknown said Sam Tomkinson, another co-director of the Young Salmon Farmers of BC.

“Many of us have recently bought houses and are starting families, and now we have no idea what our future holds or if we will be able to stay in the rural, remote communities that we call home because there is no other employment,” she said.

BC’s major salmon farming companies have also denounced the decision but said they will continue to work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and their First Nation partners to develop a final responsible transition plan, expected to be announced later this year.

“We are disappointed with the decision since traditional marine salmon farming is absolutely sustainable, thus the basis for the decision lacks scientific merit. Mowi will now take the time to examine the announcement more closely and explore our available options before taking the appropriate action,” said Mowi Canada.

Cermaq’s chief executive Steven Rafferty said: “The announcement contributes to a growing uncertainty in international investment in British Columbia and Canada. While every other salmon producing country has farming licences of at least 25 years duration or eternal duration, the short licence length in British Columbia continues to be a barrier to significant investment, despite our strong willingness to grow the industry.

“The objective the government has put forward in front of us cannot be delivered in this timeframe and is in fact, logistically impossible in remote coastal areas due to lack of suitable land or supporting infrastructure,” he said.

Grieg Seafood said it will suspend any investments in BC and await the final version of the transition plan to assess further actions. 

 (image courtesy of Cermaq)