DFO approves three fish farm expansions in Clayoquot Sound

(Part 1 of 2, click here for Part 2)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is in the midst of consultations about the immediate future of fish farms in the Discovery Islands and transitioning the open net pen industry out of coastal British Columbian waters by 2025. But DFO approved the expansion of Cermaq Canada’s farms at Bawden PointMillar Channel and Dixon Bay in Clayoquot Sound.

Dan Lewis, executive director of Clayoquot Action, explained, “The department of fisheries has a website where they put forward new applications. We keep a pretty close eye on that and we were quite alarmed to find out that Cermaq, in Clayoquot Sound here, was applying to expand three of their fish farms, to increase their biomass. They want to expand two of those farms by 50% and one of the farms by 25%. That’s the equivalent of adding one and a quarter new fish farms in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO biosphere region at a time when the Department of Fisheries is trying to figure out how to get fish farms out of BC waters.” 

Cermaq’s Mussel Rock farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

David Kiemele, Managing Director of Cermaq Canada emailed,  “The BC salmon farming sector is BC’s largest food export and very important to multiple rural coastal communities including Indigenous communities so I fully expect that the Federal Government and BC’s Provincial Government will work with our industry and First Nations who are working with the industry on the development of a responsible plan that will support a long term, sustainable salmon farming industry in BC.”   

Stan Proboszcz, senior scientist at the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, disagrees,”When the Judicial inquiry around Fraser River Sockeye ended in 2012, Justice Cohen tabled 75 recommendations. The third one essentially suggested that DFO has a potential conflicting interest in that they both promote salmon farming and the industry and its products yet they also have this mandate to conserve wild fish.  He recommended that promotional mandate be removed from DFO.  That recommendation has not been fulfilled. I think that problem still exists within the department and that problem may be the reason we’re seeing these expansions.”

“I know that the minister of fisheries has been informed of these concerns by a number of different people and groups.  I hope that she can actually change the trajectory and get us back on track to transitioning from open net salmon farms by 20 25. There’s still time to do that. She just needs to get this back on the rails.”  

Aerial view of construction at Cermaq’s Ross Passage farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Cortes Currents intveriewed both of the candidates for Regional Director of the Discovery Islands in the upcoming election. 

Marc Doll said, “I’m confused as to how we could be considering an expansion at this time. It concerns me that it looks like we’re heading in a direction that is opposite to the ministerial letter, and what we have been told is the direction for sea farms. We have to really consider the position of the Hereditary Chiefs of the native bands on this issue.  I think they’ve been very clear as to their position  of fish farms in their traditional waters.” 

“We all know the work done by Chief George Quocksister (of the  Laichkwiltach First Nation) and Alexandra Morton on this issue. I think their arguments are quite compelling.  It still remains divisive when you dive into the science and you see reports like, I think, Dr. Simon Jones who has been tracking how sea lice (numbers), for example, have fallen off the cliff in contained pens because of the use of an Ivermectin derivative drug (SLICE). We have clear science that there has been transmission of sea lice to our fish, even though those numbers have come down in recent years, but there’s a whole bunch of other diseases that are getting a lot less attention: Amoebic Gill Disease, Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI).” 

Close up of pens under construction at Cermaq’s Ross Passage farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Robyn Mawhinney added, “I believe that moving to land doesn’t deny the fish farm companies the opportunity to farm salmon and it does give them ultimate opportunity and responsibility for the parasites and the wastes that they produce.”

“Thirty years ago I worked on a fish farm up in Cliff Bay, north of the Broughton Archipelago.  It was a pretty fun salty, rustic life living on a float house and hand feeding the Atlantic Salmon. There was a lot of Orca and Humpbacks and Dolphins. The manager on the farm that I worked on really prioritized fish farm health. We didn’t feed them antibiotics. Sometimes we added vitamins to the pellets by emptying the sacks into a cement mixer and stirring them around with herring oil to make the vitamins stick.” 

“Back then I didn’t think much about herring oil, but I definitely do now. It’s evident to anybody reading the news that salmon stocks are struggling. I think it’s due to many pressures, climate change, logging affecting river levels, sports fishing, and the continued removal of 20% of the herring, which is taken from the sea every year. I believe that there are huge impacts to removing these tons and tons of wild forage fish from the oceans in favour of growing Atlantic Salmon in the Pacific Ocean.”

“My understanding is that the fish farm pellets that fish farm fish are fed are made of small fish, which aren’t generally for human consumption. Do we see these impacts now in depressed herring stocks? 80% of the herring fishery is a reduction fishery which goes to pet food or fish farm pellets. 20% of that herring fishery is roe from the females and it’s primarily for Asian markets.” 

The nets were not yet in the water at Cermaq’s Mussel Rock farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Cermaq Canada appears to be looking beyond DFO’s 2025 deadline. In their May 25, 2022, news release Kemiele mentioned looking forward to the next five years of farming within Ahousaht Territory.” 

He informed Cortes Currents, “We are working under the Governance of the Ahousaht Nation and with their consent, we are working hard and will find a pathway forward for our operations in Clayoquot Sound in Ahousaht territory.  Our new protocol extends to the end of 2025 and we are using that time to refine what our operations will look like moving forward beyond 2025 and definitely innovation plays a critical role in that plan.”

Lewis responded, “I think Cermaq  can see the writing on the wall and they’ve decided their only strategy that’s going to possibly work is to just try to bulldoze their way through. They are spending millions of dollars upgrading infrastructure here in Clayoquot Sound, right at a time when there’s a transition underway. They’re shoring up the status quo and it’s obvious that they’re going to then make the argument to the DFO, ‘Look, we just spent millions of dollars on infrastructure. Why did you let us do that if you knew we’d have to take them out of the water?’”

“It’s going completely in the opposite direction. Wild salmon in Clayoquot Sound are in precipitous decline. We are losing our wild salmon. They are on the brink of extinction. Chinook in Clayoquot Sound are in worse shape than anywhere else on the coast.  We have 20 open net pen fish farms in the biofield reserve. Cermaq has 14 fish farms here.  The other company is Creative. They operate in Clayoquot territories, are rearing Chinook and they have PRV on their farms. 

Buildings at Mussel Rock farm were towed down from the Broughton Archipelago – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Q/ Have you had any responses back from DFO?

“We were asking them to not approve them and  DFO basically tried to deny that there were applications underway. Then they kept trying to tell me there would be no net increase in biomass and it came out eventually that It sounds like what Cermaq wants to do is run fewer bigger farms,” said Lewis.

“That is driven by a profit motive, that’s how corporations work. They’re doing so much management, like treating for sea lice with various mechanical devices and chemical warfare, it might be cheaper for the company to only have one farm, rather than treating two farms.”

“DFO tried to tell me that there would be no net increase in biomass in the water, but that’s not written into the licenses.  We have no proof that that is going to be the case.  What we see is an increase in biomass in three farms.  We just don’t think that more farm salmon are going to help the wild salmon that are already struggling.”

Aerial view of the Mussel Rock farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Q/ Are there any fish farms where the five year growth rotation is coming to an end? 

Lewis answered, “I’m not sure off the top of my head, but  there’s no fish farms that are going to be pulled out of the water. They’re not saying we’re going to give you bigger farms here and you have to pull these other farms out. They will continue to have that license, probably keep that infrastructure in the water and probably try to use it.” 

Cermaq reoccupied its Raza Island farm, off the northern tip of Cortes Island, last May, but is awaiting DFO approval before stocking it with fish.  

When Cortes Currents asked Kemiele about the fish farm industry’s prospects in the Discovery Islands, he replied, “It is difficult for us to predict at this point.  We believe there can be a future in the D.I. region, again working with Nations interested in the economic benefits of aquaculture and potentially salmon farming; while using innovation and science to minimize and/or eliminate risk to wild salmon as per the Ministers considerations.  We are just too important of an Industry to this region, to not try to find solutions and a future that can work for all parties.”

Open net pens at Ross Passage farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Doll responded, “I think that would go against the best science of the moment, even though the science in some respects is still debatable. We have strong work done by Alexandra Morton. We’ve got some very compelling video  and coverage out of hereditary Chief George Quocksister and others that really underscore the problems that we’ve had with pen salmon and its effects on wild salmon.”

 “There’s been a lot of reference to the lower sea lice rates in the last two years as pen salmon have been removed.  It’s always easy to draw a straight line between two points, but there seems to be something very important that needs maybe some more study. At the end of the day, we’re looking at going against what our First Nation partners are clearly stating. we’re going against some of the best science that we have. So frankly, it’s just concerning that they look to be reinstating fish farms in places where we’ve removed them at this point.”

Mawhinney explained, “When I began my candidacy, it was important to me to connect with the First Nations on whose traditional territories, the construct of Area C is overlaid. I had the opportunity to meet with Chief Ronnie Chickite and his council (of the We Wai Kai Nation), as well as counselor Thomas Smith of the Tlowitsis First Nation and Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco.”

“Chief Blaney clearly stated to me that the Homalco do not want fish farms in their traditional territory.  He also described to me additional avenues that they are working on to pursue and support salmon health. I think it’s really important to me to respect the First Nation’s desires for their traditional territories.”

Cermaq’s Dixon Bay farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

You have been listening to interviews with Dan Lewis of Clayoquot Action, Stan Proboszcz from Watershed Watch, Robyn Mawhinney and Marc Doll, who are both in the race for Regional Director of Area C in the upcoming October 15 election, and an email from David Kiemele, Managing Director of Cermaq Canada.

Cortes Currents also reached out to the BC Salmon Farmers Association and to Cortes Island candidate Mark Vonesch, neither of which replied in time for this broadcast.

DFO responded, “We are looking into this for you.” Their email will most likely be posted in a follow-up to this article.

Another view of the Dixon Bay farm – Photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

Top image credit: The new semi closed containment system at Millar Channel fish farm is to the left. More conventional open net-pen system is behind the barge and to the left – photo courtesy Clayoquot Action

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