Canada’s seafood farmers hope Diane Lebouthillier will bring a much-needed coastal-community common sense to British Columbia’s aquaculture transition plan.

Seafood farmers see net gains with new Fisheries Minister

Canada’s seafood farmers hope Diane Lebouthillier will bring a much-needed coastal-community common sense to British Columbia’s aquaculture transition plan.

By Fabian Dawson

British Columbia’s salmon farmers are hoping that Diane Lebouthillier, Canada’s newly minted Fisheries Minister, will bring a much needed coastal-community common sense to the table as the federal government works on a transition plan for the aquaculture industry.

Lebouthillier, previously the minister of national revenue represents the Gaspésie—Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine constituency in Quebec, an area dotted with rural fishing communities which relies heavily on the seafood industry and tourism.

She replaces the controversial Joyce Murray, MP from the wealthy Vancouver-Quadra riding, who has ignored her own scientists while pushing an urban activist-driven agenda to shutter salmon farms in the waters of British Columbia.

Murray announced she is quitting federal politics on the eve of Wednesday’s major cabinet shuffle, which saw seven new MPs promoted to ministers, 23 others moved to new roles leaving eight in their current portfolios.

Lebouthillier, largely unknown in the fisheries and aquaculture sector on the west coast, inherits the Transition Plan for BC’s aquaculture industry that will impact more than 4,700 jobs mainly in indigenous and non-indigenous coastal communities and $1.2 billion in economic activity annually in British Columbia.

A decision on how to move forward with the  Transition Plan is expected next year after further consultations with First Nations, coastal communities, stakeholders and the salmon farming industry.

About 40 per cent of the BC in-ocean salmon farming sector has already been closed, despite DFO scientists and court rulings stating that the salmon farms in BC pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks.

Much of these closures did not take into account the devastating economic impacts to aquaculture-dependent coastal communities and rights of First Nations, who see ocean-based farming as an economic life in remote areas where jobs are scarce.

There are now several legal challenges mounted by First Nations, aquaculture service and supply companies, and salmon farmers, over the decisions to shut down fish farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Described as a pragmatic, no-nonsense business-oriented Minister, who has a reputation of getting things done, the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said it is looking forward to discussing the importance of salmon farming with Lebouthillier.

“We understand Minister Lebouthillier is from a fishing community,” said Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BCSFA.

“We appreciate the appointment of a Minister that understands the opportunities and challenges of resource-based communities, especially in relation to the federal salmon farming Transition Plan,” he said.

“The sector is prepared to continue to bring further investment and opportunities for rural coastal communities in British Columbia. At the same time, maintain the smallest environmental footprint of all animal protein-producing industries. 

“Salmon farmers in BC are committed to the sector’s transition principles of supporting First Nations’ right to self-determination, reconciliation and tripartite governance with Indigenous rights holders.”

“We look forward to learning more about our new Minister, her vision, and how we can align,” said Kingzett.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA), whose members generate over $5 billion in economic activity, $2 billion in GDP, and employ over 20,000 Canadians, said it welcomes Lebouthillier’s appointment as it provides new opportunities to promote, strengthen and grow the aquaculture sector.

“With evidence-based science and innovative policy, there is much potential for sustainable aquaculture production in Canada, said Timothy Kennedy, President & CEO of CAIA.

“Salmon farming in British Columbia has faced significant policy challenges in the last few years, resulting in a reduction in food production and jobs, and higher food prices for Canadians. “Under this new Minister we are optimistic for a fresh, innovative and pragmatic approach to growing and leveraging the competitive advantage that Canada’s ocean resources offer,” he said.

Kennedy said wild caught seafood cannot meet growing domestic and international demand for seafood.

In response, aquaculture has grown substantially worldwide. Each year demand is expected to grow annually by 6.90% (CAGR 2023-2028). This has led to nations such as Norway, UK, Iceland, Chile and the United States significantly expanding their capacity.  

“The new Minister can lead a new, modern policy and regulatory environment to get Canada back on track as a leader,” said Kennedy.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFSS) said it wants to see more direct collaboration with Ottawa in the consultation process leading up to the transition plan, expected next year.

“We are hoping for a reset into the whole transition process,” coalition spokesperson Dallas Smith told SeaWestNews.

“Given the weight of the potential impact this transition plan will have economically and socially on our communities, these negotiations and consultations must be on a government-to-government basis,” said Smith.

The coalition comprises 17 BC First Nations which have agreements for farming salmon in their territories resulting in 78% of all salmon farmed in the province falling under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.

(Facebook file image of Diane Lebouthillier Canada’s new Fisheries Minister)