The federal government just extended B.C. salmon farm

Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Joyce Murray announced a two-year extension for dozens of salmon farm licences that were set to expire at the end of June.
By Ainslie Cruickshank
June 22, 2022 (Updated Jun 23, 2022)

Wild juvenile pink salmon from Nootka Sound, B.C., covered in and scarred by parasitic sea lice in 2020.Photo: Tavish Campbell

This adult Fraser River sockeye, heavily infected with sea lice, was caught in Johnstone Strait in August 2018. Photo: Tavish Campbell

Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Joyce Murray says her goal over the coming year is to develop a plan for salmon farming that both protects wild salmon and provides opportunities for a sustainable... aquaculture industry in B.C.

Murray’s comments to The Narwhal come the day after she announced a two-year extension for dozens of salmon farm licences on B.C.’s coast that were set to expire at the end of June.

The primary aim, Murray said, is to protect wild salmon, which means the industry, moving forward, will “need to greatly reduce or eliminate the interaction between wild salmon and the fish farm salmon,” she said in an interview Thursday.

While most salmon farm licences were renewed, the industry will still not be allowed to operate in the Discovery Islands region, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, which is a part of a key migratory route for wild salmon.

The two-year extension for farms in other areas will give the government time to consult with First Nations, environmental groups, communities and industry to transition away from open-net pen systems, which create the potential for pathogens and parasites to spread to wild fish.

While Timothy Kennedy, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said the typical six-year licence renewal would have better reflected the industry’s production cycle, Murray said the limited two-year extension reflects the urgent concerns about the risks to wild salmon.

“This is essentially a crisis with the wild Pacific salmon,” she said.

Though salmon farm licences have been renewed for a limited time, the news that the federal government is moving forward with the development of a plan to transition farms out of the water was welcomed by long-time opponents of the industry.

“I’m really happy to see that the department of Fisheries and Oceans is actually beginning to take meaningful steps to implement the transition,” said Bob (Galagame’) Chamberlin, the chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance.

“Of course, I wish that this was happening quicker than it is,” he said.

Chamberlin added that it’s significant that First Nations on the coast, as well as in the interior, will be able to provide input on the transition plan. He said First Nations along the Fraser River haven’t been consulted on the salmon farming industry previously, despite their reliance on wild salmon that travel past farms on their migrations.

“They’re going to be able to actually speak to the protection of their Aboriginal rights, their culture, traditions and food security,” he said.

In a joint statement, biologist Alex Morton and the environmental organizations Watershed Watch and Clayoquot Action also expressed some optimism in response to the decision, but warned there will continue to be risks to wild salmon as long as fish farms are allowed to operate in the ocean.

“By not renewing the Discovery Island licences and limiting all other salmon farm licences to two years, government has signalled that open-net salmon farming in B.C. is coming to an end,” the organization said in a news release Wednesday.

In a separate statement, Kilian Stehfest, a marine conservation specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, said “we’re particularly relieved that the minister has recognized the extraordinarily high risk farms pose in the Discovery Islands.”

“However, the two-year renewals for licences must be the last time Canada extends the timeline on Atlantic salmon farms. It gives industry plenty of time to complete their existing production cycle,” Stehfest said.

Wild salmon smolts swim past the open nets of a fish farm in Clayoquot Sound, an area where sea lice have posed a recurring challenge for industry. Photo: Tavish Campbell

Former fisheries and oceans minister Bernadette Jordan announced a plan to phase out salmon farming from the Discovery Islands 18 months ago. The move was quickly challenged in court by four companies. Earlier this year the Federal Court ruled Jordan had breached the companies’ right to procedural fairness, essentially putting the decision in the hands of her successor.

Now, alongside work to develop the broader transition plan, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said they will also undertake consultations with First Nations and salmon farmers about the industry’s future in the Discovery Islands specifically. A final decision is expected in January.

Salmon farming is big business in B.C. In 2020, $566 million worth of farmed Atlantic salmon was exported from B.C., making it the province’s top agriculture, seafood, food and beverage export that year.

At the same time, the industry supports the equivalent of almost 6,500 full-time jobs through direct employment at farms, indirect employment at businesses that supply goods and services for the farms, and induced employment from the income employees spend, according to the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

In response to Wednesday’s announcement, the industry association that represents salmon farmers in B.C., said the industry poses minimal risk to wild salmon, but expressed support for the path forward outlined by the government.

In a news release, Ruth Salmon, the interim executive director for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said the announcement will ensure there’s time for the industry to work with First Nations and the federal and provincial governments towards a future that supports coastal communities, meets global demand for seafood, and protects wild salmon.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it expects the final transition plan to be released in the spring of 2023.

In the meantime, renewed salmon farm licences will be subject to stronger rules, including sea lice management plans and monitoring of wild salmon, the department said.

Here’s what you need to know to understand this decision:

How do fish farms impact wild salmon?


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