Two mature sockeye salmon spawning in a creek

DFO Decision: Discovery Island Fish Farms remain closed

According to the Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) press release of February 18, 2022, “There are multiple stressors on wild salmon, including: climate change; habitat degradation and destruction; regulated fishing as well as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Given the state of Wild Pacific Salmon, the Government of Canada is taking a highly precautionary approach to manage Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the Discovery Islands area.”

Licenses for the 15 remaining fish farms in this region will not be reissued.

Unstocked Fish Farm at Raza Island, just off the northern tip of Cortes – courtesy Alexandra Morton’s Twitter feed

“The decision to not issue (licenses to) salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area is devastating for all coastal communities who rely on the aquaculture sector,” responded Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

“As a sector, we saw the elimination of nearly a quarter of our farms in a single announcement. This resulted in companies laying off hundreds of employees from well-paid careers – in a region of Canada that is struggling to attract and retain its youth,” added Diane Morrison, Chair of the BCSFA and Managing Director of Mowi Canada West. 

Ignoring the claims of the Homalco First Nation, who oppose fish farms, they refer to the Discovery Islands as ‘the core territories of the Laich-kwil-tach and Klahoose First Nations.’

The DFO press release contains several references to the Cohen Commision (2012)

Justice Cohen found, “Salmon farming per se is not the problem. However, before introducing salmon farms into wild salmon habitat, DFO managers and scientists need to assess the risk to wild stocks and institute regulatory measures to minimize or eliminate the risk. If they conclude that regulatory measures cannot protect wild stocks, they can exercise their powers under the Fisheries Act to prohibit net-pen salmon farming.” (p 11, vol 3).  

He concluded the “state of scientific research about sockeye–fish farm interactions is not sufficiently developed to rule out diseases on salmon farms as contributing to the decline of Fraser River sockeye and posing future risks.” (p 37, vol 3) He also stated, “The potential harm posed by salmon farms to Fraser River sockeye salmon is serious, or irreversible.”(p 90, vol 3).

That was the basis of his comission’s recomendation #19: “On September 30, 2020, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should prohibit net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands (fish health sub-zone 3-2) unless he or she is satisfied that such farms pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.”

On December 17, 2020, Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced that the Discovery Island Fish farms must be free of fish in 18 months. 

A Federal court subsequently ruled that the government had not been procedurally fair to the fish farm industry, “They were denied the opportunity to meaningfully respond to concerns.” 

Consequently, DFO held extensive consultations with the industry and First Nations from June 22, 2022 to December 23, 2022.

The DFO press release announcing the decision to not reissue licenses for fish farms in the Discovery Islands, states, “Recent science indicates that there is uncertainty with respect to the risks posed by Atlantic salmon aquaculture farms to Wild Pacific Salmon in the Discovery Islands area, as well as to the cumulative effect of any farm-related impacts on this iconic species.”

Kingzett responded, “The Federal government continues to demonstrate a lack of care for rural coastal communities and continues to put the interests of activists above the people who grow Canada’s food.”

This statement ignores the findings of peer reviewed papers such as: 

 Kingzett does endorse a recently released DFO report which does not cite any scientific reports since 2019 as sources (pp 24-27 of report).

Sixteen scientists, with a cumulative record is over 1500 peer-reviewed scientific papers, wrote the Ministry, “This report falls far short of the standards of credible independent peer review and publishable science.” 

In her decision, Murray states,  “The state of wild Pacific salmon is dire, and we must do what we can to ensure their survival. This was a difficult but necessary decision. By taking an enhanced precautionary approach in the Discovery Islands area, the Government of Canada will help ensure the well-being of wild Pacific salmon for our children and grandchildren.”

Originally published on Feb 18, additional information added Feb 20, 2023.

Top image credit: Spawning sockeye Salmon – Image from cover of the Cohen Commission

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: