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Discovery Islands salmon farm closure confirmation sends waves across B.C. coast

Activists celebrate, while seafood companies mull over future with regards to “devastating” decision
Mowi Canada West salmon farm. (Mowi photo)

On Friday, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced it will not renew the licences of fish farms in the Discovery Islands.

That ‘devastating’ decision will impact both communities in the region off Northern Vancouver Island and the aquaculture sector, say the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) in a press release.

“The federal government has turned their backs on coastal employees,” said BCSFA chair and Managing Director of Mowi Canada West Diane Morrision. “As a sector, we saw the elimination of nearly a quarter of our farms within a single announcement.” A MOWI press release said the company was exploring its legal options.

The long-debated closure of the open-net farms has been a months-long roller coaster ride.

In December, 2020, then-minister Bernadette Jordan announced the pending closure of all open-pen salmon farms by 2022. Last April, a judge ruled in favour of companies Cermaq, Grieg and Mowi, arguing that Jordan had failed to grant the seafood giants the right to procedural process. That led to a period of consulation leading up to Friday’s decision.

Anti-fish farm activist Alexandra Morton, who has been on the front lines of the closure of fish farms for more than two decades, expressed gratitude regarding the decision of the DFO, which she described as “brave.”

“This is an imporant decision. It is going to effect the return of wild salmon throughout British Columbia,” said Morton. “I am relieved another generation of wild salmon is going to get to go out to sea, through the Discovery Islands without exposure to farmed salmon diseases.”

Morton says the battle is far from over, with about 70 fish farms still on the coast. She’s also confident that seafood giants MOWI, Grieg and Cermaq will attempt to flex their muscle.

“I know the salmon farming industry can be quite aggressive. They also sued the previous Minister (Bernadette Jordan) in 2021 when her decision was similar,” said Morton. “It’s interesting to see the salmon farming industry is clinging to certain DFO science like a life raft, while aggressively ignoring other science on the impact of salmon farm diseases on wild salmon.”

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship said the DFO decision did not reflect First Nations input, including that of the Laich-kwil-tach Nations who inhabit the Discovery Islands.

“The decision unfortunately feels beyond procedural unfairness after many months of meetings with the minister and her department,” spokesperson Dallas Smith said in a press release, adding that the federal government had ignored a coalition-backed proposal for a staggered plan to re-introduce some farms in the Discovery Island waters.

“First Nations from the coast are trying to find their feet when it comes to reclaiming what was taken away by the federal government. Whether it’s creating Marine Protected Areas or deciding to host fish farms, coastal Nations are trying to take back their inherent rights to manage their traditional waters,” said Smith.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) said in a Feb. 17 release that the decision to close the 19 fish farms along the coast will “hit Canadians in the pocketbook.”

“Spot prices for the West Coast fresh Atlantic salmon (all-farm raised) are at record highs for this time of the year,” said the CAIA in a website statement. “The original 2020 decision resulted in reduced production, from 20,000 tonnes in the Discovery Islands, the equivalent of 12 million salmon meals, to zero production, costing jobs and consumers more.”

The statement also says that Canadian seafood demand is slowly having to be replaced by foreign imports, driving emissions up even further as the domestic supply shrinks.

“97 per cent of Canada’s salmon production is farm-raised salmon. The Discovery Islands makes up a quarter of B.C.’s salmon farming,” the statement says.

”With demand in North America being replaced by foreign sources, increased air frieght from this decision will add 163,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, the equivalent to adding 35,000 cars on the road permanently.”

READ MORE: Fisheries Department confirms closure of 15 Discovery Islands salmon farms

READ MORE: Protests greet federal fish farm consultations in Campbell River

Edward Hitchins

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