“To me it doesn't make any logical sense to do what the government is doing right now…from a food security perspective this decision is incredibly dangerous,” Dr Sylvain Charlebois.

Open-net salmon farming ban in BC is illogical: The Food Prof.

To me it doesn’t make any logical sense to do what the government is doing right now…from a food security perspective this decision is incredibly dangerous,” Dr Sylvain Charlebois.

By Fabian Dawson

The Liberal Government’s move to ban open-net salmon farming in British Columbia is incredibly dangerous to the nation’s food security, states Canada’s leading food scientist Dr. Sylvain Charlebois.

It’s also an illogical move driven by activism rather than science, said Dr. Charlebois, an expert in the area of food distribution, security and safety and director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

“It is clear to me that activism has successfully influenced the decision…to me it doesn’t make any logical sense to do what the government is doing right now,” Dr Charlebois, dubbed ‘The Food Professor’ by media, told SeaWestNews.

“It will increase the carbon footprint of Canada’s food production sector and lead to higher salmon prices,” he warned.

“From a food security perspective this decision is incredibly dangerous,” said Dr. Charlebois, whose latest peer-reviewed study shows Canada is now buying more salmon from different parts of the world, with import quantities rapidly rising since 2021. The study also predicts that local salmon prices will increase over CAD 30 per kilogram by 2026.

The BC open-net salmon farm closures carry profound consequences for both the environment and market dynamics and will trigger substantial economic disruptions, massive job losses and heighten the nation’s food insecurity, Dr Charlebois and the other authors of the report concluded.

Denying the science of its own fisheries experts that show the marine operations pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks and bowing to the demands of activists to get their votes, the Liberal government announced this week that open-net salmon farming in BC will be phased out by 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 has triggered a fierce backlash from First Nations leaders, the industry and food and fisheries experts and will impact over 5,000 jobs in BC.

The Washington-based Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) is among the latest to add its voice to the growing chorus of condemnation that has erupted over the decision.

“We share the frustration of our Canadian colleagues who have watched special interest groups opposed to aquatic food production destroy 40 years of building strong communities by growing one of the world’s most nutritious, delicious foods: salmon,” the NWAA said in statement.

It also took exception to statements by Canadian Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson, who said net-pen farming was banned in Washington State in 2022.

“In fact, it was not. Currently there is no prohibition (or “ban”) on net-pen aquaculture in Washington State, as ruled by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Indu Thomas in October 2023,” said the NWAA.

“Respecting the great responsibility of government agencies to share true and factual information with the public, NWAA respectfully requests that Minister Wilkinson set the record straight about net-pen aquaculture in Washington state, which has been legal since the state’s Aquaculture Law was enacted in 1985 and again upheld by the state legislature in 2018.”

Wilkinson, a former Fisheries Minister for Canada, has also come under for fire from members of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, for refusing to meet with them just prior to the government announcement and for his comments on the issue.

“Wilkinson made three women DFO Ministers (his successors) do the difficult work over the last several years…work he couldn’t accomplish as Minister, and now gets to take a “victory lap.” This behavior is both cowardly and hypocritical,” said Isaiah Robinson, deputy chief councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, which began farming and processing salmon independently in their traditional waters in the late 1980s.

He expressed his disappointed in a post on X (formerly Twitter) after Wilkinson invited members of the anti-salmon farming activist groups to join him in making the ban announcement in Vancouver, and not the First Nations directly impacted by the decision.

“The government’s continuous claims of supporting reconciliation and economic self-determination are false, misleading, and inaccurate. They prefer to appease their voters in Vancouver rather than the people living in remote, special-access communities and towns along BC’s coast,” said Robinson.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) has also warned that Ottawa’s ban on open-net salmon aquaculture in BC 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.

Private sector supply companies to the aquaculture sector also lambasted the government decision.

“What has been announced does not meet the government’s commitment to a “responsible” plan as it will negatively impact thousands of Canadians,” the companies said in a statement.

“Our sector supports thousands of skilled BC workers, including the youngest agri-food workforce in Canada. There are over 1,000 distinct supply companies involved in BC salmon farming…BC’s historically largest agricultural export touches so many people’s lives: farming and food production, including food retail and service, health companies, food banks, food processors, local auto dealers, feed manufacturers, and grain growers, just to name a few,” the group said.

“This policy must be revisited, and we call on all British Columbians and Canadians to support us in calling for this government to choose a balanced pathway.”

(Facebook image shows Dr Sylvain Charlebois at a conference)