After ignoring her own scientists, Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan also rebuffed her deputy minister when deciding to ban salmon farming in BC’s Discovery Islands, an internal government document shows.
By Fabian Dawson
Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan’s hasty decision to oust salmon farmers from BC’s Discovery Islands within 18 months, begs the question if a quid-pro-quo was in play to appease anti-fish farming activists, say government and industry sources.
In addition to ignoring her own scientists, who found that the Discovery Island farms posed less than a minimal threat to wild stocks, a new internal government document now shows she also rebuffed her deputy minister, Timothy Sargent, who recommended a more coordinated approach for the decommission of salmon farms in the area.
In the document obtained by SeaWestNews, Sargent recommends that Minister Jordan allow salmon farmers in the Discovery Islands to finish their production cycles prior to the termination of their licenses in June 2022, which would avoid the unnecessary culling of millions of baby fish and immediate job losses.
He states that this is the preferred option by “all of the” First Nations in the area, who also wanted “additional consultation time” on the future of fish farms in their traditional territories.
The memorandum marked ‘Protected B’ – a classification that applies to information, which if compromised, could cause serious injury to government – has become part of court filings by the fish farmers, who are seeking a judicial review of Minister Jordan’s decision.
The memorandum to Minister Jordan further states “data collected by DFO’s BC Aquaculture Regulatory Program from 2011-2020 indicates that across all metrics, the Discovery Island farms are generally well performing, minimizing their impacts on fish and fish habitat.”
Sargent concludes that his recommended time frame “will respond to requests from First Nations for an extension of time to allow meaningful consultations to take place while allowing progress to be made towards Area Based Management (ABM) practices.
“This timing considers the lifecycle of the farmed salmon to allow for the grow out and harvest of fish that are currently in the production plans for the Discovery Islands area.”
In addition, the memorandum suggests that the fish farmers have met the threshold for continued operations in the Discovery Islands as stipulated by the Cohen Commission, which was set up to investigate the decline of sockeye salmon stocks.
But Jordan rejected the recommendations by her deputy minister and announced last December 17, that no new fish of any size may be introduced into Discovery Islands facilities during the 18-month phase out period ending June 2022.
She also decreed that all 19 salmon farms in this area, which have been operating for the past 35 years, must no longer have fish in their pens by June 30th, 2022.
Jordan’s decision has already led to the culling of about one million baby fish by Mowi Canada West last month. The smolts were slated to be transferred to one of its grow out pens in the Discovery Islands but had no place to go.
Mowi said it is being compelled to kill a total of 12 million healthy juvenile Atlantic salmon, which could provide 235 million meals, because of Jordan’s fish transfer ban. The other fish farmers impacted by the decision are Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood BC.
A spokesperson for the minister said: “prior to her decision, Minister Jordan met with First Nations directly, multiple times. The memorandum in question summarizes the meetings held by the Deputy Minister and departmental officials, and does not account for those held by the Minister, her Parliamentary Secretary, or her staff.”
“The consequences of her final decision, including those on the production cycles, were carefully considered. That is exactly why the Minister intends to phase out the farms over 18 months, instead of a year. This allows existing fish to complete their growth cycle and be harvested. ”
The spokesperson did not address the ban on transfer of baby salmon to the Discovery Islands pens during the phase out period.
In its entirety, Jordan’s unexpected Discovery Islands’ decision 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 BC.
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.
“Salmon farmers are resigned to the fact they may not be able to operate in the Discovery Islands after June 2022 but there is no reason to halt their production cycles till then,” said an industry official.
“It begs the question who is Minister Jordan working for, other than the anti-fish farming activists who are being funded by businessmen seeking grants to open land-based fish farms…these activists have a large voting bloc and have influence over some of the First Nations in the area.
“This group mainly from urban Liberal party constituencies have been extremely unhappy with the Trudeau government after it watered down its election pledge to remove BC’s salmon farmers from the ocean…they want something done now to show their followers and the minister delivered,” he said.
“If this doesn’t smell like a quid pro quo arrangement for votes, I don’t know what does.”
A Liberal party source in Ottawa, told SeaWestNews that there has been intense pressure on Minister Jordan, especially after the much touted 2019 pre-election pledge by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to phase out all open-net salmon farming in five years.
After Trudeau’s victory, Minister Jordan clarified that 2025 is the date to “come up with a plan” and is not about getting all open-net salmon farms out of the ocean in five years, deflating claims of victory by the anti-fish farm activists on the West Coast.
“Since then a PR group with powerful links has been warning the Liberals that they risk losing votes in BC’s urban ridings because of the so-called betrayal,” said a Liberal party insider.
“Now with an election in the offing, the minister had to show something to this group, never mind the DFO science or its recommendations,” she said.
“But it is backfiring on several levels and the government is hoping that the courts would give them a way out because none of the actual stakeholders are happy…that is the current feeling here in Ottawa and that is one of the reasons why there is no actual transition plan for the Discovery Islands as of yet.”
Her sentiment has been reflected in statements by the BC Premier John Horgan, whose government is still waiting to hear from Ottawa on its plan for the people and businesses impacted by the Discovery Islands’ decision.
“The federal government took action in Discovery without consulting us at all…They told us after the fact,” Horgan told reporters recently.
This week, Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation told SeaWestNews that he has written to Minister Jordan requesting the federal government commit to a strategy to mitigate the economic impact on people and communities on northern Vancouver Island.
“We have not received a response from Minister Jordan,” said Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation.
Some First Nations leaders consulted on the plan said they were “railroaded” by the Federal Government while mayors in Vancouver’s North Island have expressed their anger after being shut out by Minister Jordan.
The minister’s spokesperson said :“since December 17th, the Minister has met with multiple leaders in the region, including MP Rachel Blaney and Minister Lana Popham of the Provincial Government, and discussed this issue with them directly.”
“The Minister’s staff and her Parliamentary Secretary, Terry Beech, have also been consistently engaged with industry representatives to ensure their concerns are heard. Recently, some of these companies asked for a judicial review of the Minister’s decision. Given that the matter is now before the court, the Minister cannot meet with these representatives,” she said.
A political ethics specialist, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have firsthand knowledge of the Discovery Islands issues, said : “this story has all the signs of a quid-pro-quo in play.”
“But votes in exchange for a favourable decision is nothing new in Canadian politics where special interest groups and activists wield an oversized power,” he said.
“That seems to be the case here.”