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B.C. environmentalists, First Nations delighted by fish farm plan

Watershed Watch Salmon Society is pleased with today’s federal announcement to ban open-net salmon farming in B.C. coastal waters beyond June 2029, but is concerned with the renewal of the farms’ licences for five years.
A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, 2023 demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)

Environmentalists and many First Nations groups are celebrating the federal government's ban on open-net fish farms beginning in 2029.

And, in fact, some would like to see it enacted sooner

"Watershed Watch Salmon Society is pleased with today’s federal announcement to ban open-net salmon farming in B.C. coastal waters beyond June 2029, but is concerned with the renewal of the farms’ licences for five years," a statement from the organization says

“We are relieved that the federal government is sticking to their commitment to remove the farms, but five years is too long for the phase-out period,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “That’s five more years of bombarding wild salmon with parasites and viruses from factory fish farms.”

The previous renewal of these same licences was for a two-year period. In the lead-up to the recent removal of salmon farms from the Discovery Islands region of British Columbia, licences there were renewed on an annual basis. Allowing for the completion of a full grow-out cycle (i.e., the lifespan of a farm salmon) would still only require approximately three years. Watershed Watch will advocate for the soonest possible removal of all open-net farms from B.C.’s coastal waters. 

The regulatory regime that will provide security around the ban has yet to be developed. Conservationists hope for the swift development of these regulations and updates to current regulations governing the industry over the phase-out period. 

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is supportive of the transition plan which is in line with UBCIC Chiefs Council Resolutions and recommendations including calling for First Nations monitoring and oversight to help attain the stated government objective to rebuild trust in DFO science and management decision making.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President, said, “We have been strongly advocating for an end to open-net pen fish farming for years and are grateful that the government of Canada has listened to our concerns including the sacred role of salmon to our people, and to the undeniable scientific evidence that fish farms have put our wild salmon at risk. All First Nations have territories that include critical waterways, and every First Nation in B.C. will be affected by long-term decisions regarding fish farms. This commitment to a five-year transition away from open net fish farming is a welcome step in protecting B.C. Wild Salmon.”

Chief Marilyn Slett, UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer said, “Salmon is integral to First Nations cultures, traditions, and economies across our territories. This announcement is a step towards the protection of our salmon stocks which have been steadily declining at an alarming rate. Fish farms have contributed to this decline through the introduction of pathogens including Piscine Reo-Virus (PRV), Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), and hazardous levels of parasitic sea lice.”

The First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance welcomed the announcement that open net pen fish farms will not operate in BC Oceans by 2029. This date will serve the longer-term needs of protecting wild Pacific salmon from the impacts of the open-net pen fish farm industry, and is a positive step in that regard.

“Questions remain of the efficacy of the New Regulations and Conditions of License that DFO developed independently. These are unknown components at this time and are critical in protecting wild salmon in the immediate future,” said Bob Chamberlin, Chairman, FNWSA.

The FNWSA and the majority of First Nations involved in the Transition planning process submitted to the DFO a transition plan that sees early retirement of fish farms leading up to the final date.

“Phasing out of fish farms on the east coast of Vancouver Island is in line with the Discovery Island decision and furthers the embracing of the Precautionary Principle,” Chamberlin said. He concluded: “DFO argued in the recent Judicial Review that the manner the Precautionary Principle was applied in Discovery Islands should be consistent with how it is applied across BC."

“Many B.C. wild salmon runs are in trouble, so it’s imperative to remove pathogen-spreading open-net salmon farms from their migration routes as soon as possible,” said Stan Proboszcz, senior science and policy analyst for Watershed Watch Salmon Society.  “We hope to see the development of the regulatory framework that enshrines the ban into law as soon as possible.” 

Alistair Taylor

About the Author: Alistair Taylor

I have been editor of the Campbell River Mirror since 1989. Our team takes great pride in serving our community.
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