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

Russell Jonathon George Gurney was last seen in Chilliwack in mid-December. (RCMP photo)
RCMP ask for help to find missing Abbotsford man last seen in Chilliwack

Police and family are concerned for the well-being of Russell Jonathon George Gurney

The Harrison Hot Springs village office, as seen from the back. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Harrison village staff to get additional office space

The village has agreed to spend up to $75,000 of the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant on a new portable

Harrison Hot Springs kindergarten students held a peaceful protest Monday (Jan. 18) to end separated recess. The protest was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and his lessons of non-violent action. Check out page XX for the whole story. (Dustin Neufeld/Contributed)
PHOTOS: Harrison students launch peaceful protest against playground division for MLK day

The kindergarten students negotiated with the school principal to enable recess on both playgrounds

Ottawa serial killer Camille Joseph Cleroux died of natural causes at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution on Sunday.
Serial killer housed at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution dies of natural causes

Camille Joseph Cleroux announced dead on Sunday, known as notorious Ottawa serial killer

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Ralliers gather in front of the Cityviews Village apartment building in Maple Ridge to protest attempts to evict low-income tenants by the building owner. (Ronan O’Doherty - The News)
Tenants protest pressure tactics by new landlord at Maple Ridge apartment building

Protest held in front of Cityviews Village on 223 St. Tuesday to rally against low-income evictions

Most Read