fish farm building floating i the ocean

Waiting for DFO to decide the fate of open-net pen fish farms

Sometime in the next three weeks, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Joyce Murray, will decide whether the licenses for 79 fish farms will be renewed. 

“I heard a rumour that the minister laid out her options or her ideas to cabinet and cabinet has the plans right now. They’re  figuring out what to do. We can expect an announcement quite shortly on the plan around the transition of farms out of British Columbia and also the licensing decision,” said Stan Proboszcz, senior scientist with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

Image credit: Ottawa sunset – Photo by BNilsen via Flickr (CC BT SA, 2.0 License)

According to the BC Salmon Farmers Association, based in Campbell River, the province will lose more than 4,700 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity if the salmon farm licenses are not reissued.

First Nations in the Discovery Islands

The elected Chiefs of the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum are among a small group of First Nations leaders supporting this industry, but Hereditary Chief Arnold Chickite of the We Wai Kai Nation campaigns against fish farms

The Klahoose, Homalco, Tla’amin and K’omok are among the 102 B.C. First Nations that signed a joint letter calling for open-net pen fish farms to be transitioned onto land. 

Bob Chamberlain, Chair of the First Nation’s Wild Salmon Alliance issued a press release stating, “We are deeply concerned that wild salmon runs in B.C. have suffered from the impacts of fragmented management decisions at both the federal and provincial levels, decisions that have contributed to the precarious extinction-level state of wild salmon and which must now be corrected if we are to see wild salmon runs successfully rebound.”

A growing number of scientists agree with them. 

Raza Island reoccupied

All of the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands have ceased operations.

Last month Cermaq Canada reoccupied its Raza Island site, which is just off the northern tip of Cortes. The company emailed Cortes Currents that they did not intend to stock the farm this Spring. They are hoping that Murray will renew the licenses and reverse her predecessor’s decision to remove fish farms from the Discovery Islands. 

Proboszcz is based in Powell River, and visited the Raza Island site last week.

“There didn’t appear to be anyone at the farm, but it does look like it wouldn’t take that much time  to get it started. It appeared to have still a fair bit of infrastructure. The housing unit was still there, much of the walkways were still there. It didn’t look like it had nets in the water. I think those were taken out and obviously didn’t have fish in them,” he explained.  

Sea lice data for the Discovery Islands

While he was in the Discovery Islands, Proboszcz met up with Farlyn Campbell and Jody Eriksson. Campbell reported that, in the 20 years they have been sampling the migrating salmon, the fish have never been this free of lice.

“Usually they would either be covered in lice, or one or two lice per fish. like somewhere between one or two and 10.  The only place we’ve ever seen clean fish, like this is off the Skeena Estuary where you’re 50 miles from the nearest farm,” he said

They did a set for Proboszcz.  

“They used a large net or a seine and captured a number of juvenile pink and chum salmon. The vast majority of them were clean. They had no parasites. No lice.  It was quite heartwarming to see,” he explained.

A spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association emailed, “No actual data has actually been presented that would allow us to comment.  However, analysis of the last five years’ data in the Discovery Islands showed that lice levels have always been low before and after the removal of farms. The sector has continued to support sea lice research in the Discovery Islands this year and when data is available, we will update our analysis from last year.”

Note the highs of 15.9 lice on Aug 17, 28.4 on Aug 30 and post treatment count of 10 lice per fish. The Numbers remained above the threshold, despite repeated treatments, until Nov 13, 2020 – click on image to access Government of Canada website

Data for fish farms throughout British Columbia collected on June 8, 2022

Debate on the CSAS review process

Proboszcz was one of the many scientists who recently testified about flaws in the DFO’s in-house science peer-review process (or CSAS) before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

Nine pro-industry scientists responded through an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail

On Monday, the Watershed Watch issued a press release stating that all nine scientists have ties to the salmon farming industry.

“There were no exceptions.  Some of them coauthored with industry. Some of them conducted studies that were partly funded by the industry. Some of them coauthored with consultancies and companies and nonprofits that regularly do work for the industry and then some of them are funded by grants set up to promote or benefit the industry,” said Proboszcz.

The industry spokesperson wrote, “We are disappointed to see claims questioning the credibility of the respected scientists who signed the recent Globe and Mail op-ed. Additionally, we are confused as to why industry funded research is questioned yet the motives of scientists funded by activist groups are not. The BCSFA and the aquaculture sector continue to support credible, independent and peer -reviewed government and academic research.  We do not attempt to alter or influence the results of research.”

As can be seen in the graph above, some of the scientists she dismissed as being ‘funded by activist groups’ are employed by environmental groups, but others are connected to prominent universities and government programs.

Other critics of the industry come from organizations like DFO’s Strategic Salmon Health Initiative, DFO’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, DFO’s Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology, the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies, and UBC’s Department of Medicine.

Cortes Currents asked Proboszcz if he thought any of the points raised in the Globe and Mail article were valid.  

“I think the overarching refrain was what I would term as kind of a pro-industry. I think most of their comments were around DFOs in-house peer review, it’s science peer review process, and I’ve been involved in that,” he explained.

“I was a steering committee member for five of them, looking at five different pathogens that come from salmon farms and that impact a wild fish. I had concerns that I raised during the process. One of them was around potential bias of some of the participants because the process doesn’t have any sort of explicit way to deal with conflicts of interest. We  felt that sometimes those peer review processes were heavily weighted towards people that worked for the industry, or that did work for the industry regularly, or were funded by the industry.”

Joyce Murray, the Minister of Fisheries, is mandated by the Prime Minister to “work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.”

The next step in this process is to decide whether to renew the licenses of the 79 fish farms that expire at the end of this month.


Links to data pages for the MOWI Canada West fish farms as displayed on June 8, 2022.

The reporting & compliance data from Grieg Seafood’s website was from 2020, and the most up to date Industry sea lice counts on the DFO webpage are from 2021. So Cortes Currents did not use it.

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