A salmon farm floating in the ocean

Potential elimination of open-net salmon farm sector in sight

The licenses for all 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands expire in June. There will only be 7 farms left in the Broughton Archipelago by 2023, at which point their tenure ends unless they can obtain First Nations approval and Department of Fisheries licences. That leaves an estimated 79 salmon farms throughout the province, and all of their licenses come up for renewal on June 30, 2022.

Fish farm leaving the Broughton Archipelago – Courtesy Alexandra Morton’s Facebook page

A new ‘independent’ report, prepared for the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) by the consulting firm RIAS Inc, states, “The licence renewal process in BC will determine the fate of the remaining 4,700 workers and $1.2 billion in economic activity generated by our sector in BC, as well as the additional $200 million in economic activity and 900 jobs across the country.”

Seventeen BC First Nations are alleged to have ‘salmon farming partnerships.’

In a recent press release, Joyce Murray, Minister for Fisheries and Oceans, said, “We remain committed to responsibly transitioning from open-net pen salmon farming in all coastal British Columbia waters and introducing Canada’s first-ever Aquaculture Act, which will respect jurisdictions, and provide more transparency and certainty within the industry.” 

Independent biologist Alexandra Morton maintains that the ‘handful of low paying corporate jobs’ this industry provides is insignificant compared to the damage it causes to wild fishery stocks, communities dependent on fishing, and wilderness tourism. 

The Wilderness Tourism Association described the continued existence of open-net salmon farms as a threat to their industry, which is dependent on a healthy wild salmon economy.

The RIAS report calls for:

  • “Immediate engagement on 2022 site licence renewals, and the 2025 transition plan, by senior government officials with industry leaders and Indigenous partners, with a clear timetable to address these issues.”
  • “Increased transparency in decision-making for the future — for example, obtaining a licence re-issuance is complex and closed. All three governments should consider a dashboard type platform that allows the public to see what information/data companies provide as part of the process.”   

A BCSFA spokesperson emailed Cortes Currents that moving back to a one year licensing system is not an option.

“The companies work on 5 year cycles, and if there is no certainty that licences will be renewed beyond a year, it wouldn’t make much sense to continue operating if you cannot complete the life cycle of the fish. We saw this with the Discovery Islands decision where millions of fish were euthanized in the hatchery as they were not allowed to complete their lifecycle in the pens.” 

She also wrote that there no longer any active farms in the Discovery Islands.

The RIAS states that 222 people lost their jobs on the salmon farms and this led to the termination of another 468 front end positions. A total of 1,535 direct and indirect jobs were lost.

In the associated press release BC Salmon Farmers’ new interim Executive Director, Ruth Salmon said, “Coastal communities in BC deserve better, especially during an ongoing pandemic that has already caused severe stress, mental health strain, and economic pressure on many families, households and communities.”  

The BCSFA spokesperson wrote that former Executive Director, John Paul Fraser is no longer with the association. His last day was Friday, Feb 18th, 2022. 

According to his Linked-in page, Fraser is now the Communications Director for Westerkirk Capital Inc. 

The industry has been looking into new technologies to address problems with sea lice. Cermaq Canada’s trail of a Semi-Closed Containment System, at its Millar site in Clayoquot Sound, was terminated last October due to technical problems. Grieg Seafood announced that their trial of this technology off the Sunshine Coast was successful and they will be installing semi-closed systems at all three of their farms in Esperanza Inlet off the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

The BCSFA spokesperson wrote, “In terms of the future of salmon farming technology, we follow science and research for the best direction in technological advancements and want to pursue the technology with the lowest carbon footprint and environmental impact, with the best fish welfare practices. Continued research and development is ongoing and new technology is being trialed, however a secure future is needed in order to gain the investment needed to continue with this effort.”

This post was originally aired on Feb 25 and republished Feb 26 to accompany the Saturday Round-up.

Top image credit: Grieg Seafood operates a salmon farm in Clio Channel, Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia, photo by David Stanley 

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