A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. Today (Dec. 17) Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan gave B.C. salmon farm operators 18 months to deactivate farms in the Discovery Islands. (Quinn Bender photo)

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. Today (Dec. 17) Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan gave B.C. salmon farm operators 18 months to deactivate farms in the Discovery Islands. (Quinn Bender photo)

Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

Federal government gives operators 18 months to grow-out their last harvest

B.C. salmon farm operators have been given 18 months to clear out of the Discovery Islands.

The decision today announced by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan ends a long campaign among wild salmon advocates to rid a critical migratory route of open-net pen farms.

Independent biologist Alexandra Morton, who spearheaded much of the research and activism against the farms, learned of the decision from Black Press Media.

“You told me the best news in 35 years of this fight,” she said.

“I’ve been studying these little sockeye for so long. This means they’re going to get to sea alive. This means we can start reversing that decline. I realize salmon farms are not the entire problem, but if they’re not getting to sea, nothing else is going to matter. I stand in awe of the First Nations leadership that made this happen.”

READ MORE: Can B.C. salmon farmers play a bigger role in post-pandemic economic recovery?

A number of factors are blamed for B.C.’s dwindling salmon populations, including over-fishing, climate change, warming waters, and increased predation. Open-net pens have the potential to act as reservoirs for naturally occurring sea lice and pathogens that transfer to out-migrating juvenile fish. Salmon farm opponents believe farms in the Discovery Islands are a leading cause of the decline.

Jordan’s decision follows three months of consultations with industry and seven area First Nations on whether to renew the 19 area licences, set to expire Dec. 18.

“The joy that’s going to happen from this result is going to be far-reaching for many salmon warriors across the province,” Bob Chamberlain, chair of the First Nations Salmon Alliance said.

Chamberlain stressed the decision has the potential for immediate positive impact, as farms in a key route in the Okisollo Channel will complete their harvests before the next out-migration.

“There is significant benefit here — I’m so happy,” he said. “We’ve had two historic low returns, and I’m not sure if people connect what that means for future generations. It means historic low salmon eggs as well. And it’s established fact that only one to four per cent of juveniles make it back as spawners. Even if there are no impacts or barriers, when these fish return we’re going to have another historic low. We’re on a very critical downward spiral, so what’s happened today will have a significant benefit right away.”

The Living Oceans Society, David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice were among the first conservation groups to also issue statements celebrating the news.

About 80 per cent of the 3 million farmed salmon currently stocked in the island group are expected to be harvested by April, according to the fisheries ministry. Currently, just nine of the 19 licenced Discovery Islands farms contain salmon.

The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in these narrow waterways by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) risk assessments this year found the impacts were below that critical threshold, but public pressure resulted in recent consultations and today’s decision.

“British Columbians and Indigenous peoples have been very clear that they wanted to be part of the decisions of what’s done in their coastal waters and territories. We’re listening to them,” Jordan said in a telephone interview. “What we heard was they did not want [the farms] there.

“It was an extremely difficult decision for me. I know there are people whose jobs are impacted, communities that are impacted, and that’s why I did not take this decision lightly.”

The 18-month grace period allows time for the completion of the fishes’ growth cycle before harvest, but operators are not permitted to add any new stocks to the Discovery Islands sites. The farms must be fish free by June 30, 2022.

DFO will immediately begin working with the industry on a transition plan.

READ MORE: B.C.’s declining fisheries the result of poor DFO management: audit

‘A bad time’: salmon farmers

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) was disapointed by today’s decision, and has previously stated they feel public opposition is mired in the belief of outdated practices that don’t account for innovations, monitoring standards and treatments put in place since the release of the Cohen Commission report eight years ago.

“This decision has significant implications and puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk,” BCSFA spokesperson Shawn Hall said. “This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important. We have just received this decision, and will be taking some time to consider it and speak with the numerous companies and communities involved in salmon farming in the province before commenting further.”

According to the BCSFA the industry as a whole supports about 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province. Farmed salmon has a landed value of $772.5 million annually and is B.C.’s leading food export worth $562 million in 2019.

A recent report commissioned by the BCSFA shows the industry is poised to begin investments worth $1.4 billion over the next 30 years that could generate $44 billion in economic output and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050.

For that to happen, the sector needs to see a “predictable policy approach” to salmon farming from the provincial and federal governments.

Ottawa aims to develop a plan by 2025 to transition all open-net pens out of B.C. waters, which salmon-farm activists have interpreted as a move to in-land operations, but the industry says the ecological footprint and economic costs would be too great. Two likely options are closed and semi-closed containment systems that offer a physical barrier between farmed salmon and wild fish.

READ MORE: B.C. trials of new salmon farm containment system underway

It remains to be seen how today’s decision will affect industry optimism, but Jordan said the sector will remain an important part of the federal government’s Blue Economy Strategy, as broad consultations on what that will look like begin in early 2021.

“I believe that aquaculture has a place on the B.C. coast. It employs thousands of people and is a really important part of the B.C. economy. But we want to make sure we’re working with them [industry] to make sure it’s sustainable … and those are the kind of things that will be part of the consultation process going forward.”



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Fisheries and Oceans CanadaSalmon farming

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This concept artwork from July 2020 shows the inland port planned for the former Skeena Cellulose mill site in Terrace. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Terrace city council approves inland port OCP amendments

Project still requires zoning bylaw, development permit to continue

This copper frog pendant was made by Jamika Aksidan, a young Nisga’a artist who was recently recognized with an award for her work. (Photo courtesy Nisga’a Museum)
Nisga’a youth artist wins award

Award includes $500, exhibition in Nisga’a Museum

A BC Hydro outage is affecting nearly 4000 customers in Kitimat. The cause of the outage is under investigation. (Screenshot/BC Hydro Outage Map)
Cable fault responsible for Kitimat power outage, BC Hydro says

At its peak, the BC Hydro power outage affected near 4,000 customers

Graph showing the 2020 passenger totals at the Northwest Regional Airport in Terrace. (Submitted/Northwest Regional Airport)
New year brings an end to a turbulent 2020 at Northwest Regional Airport

Passenger totals half of what they were in 2019

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Most Read