Open-net salmon aquaculture could continue off the coast of British Columbia outside the Discovery Islands region, while Ottawa begins consultations on a plan to transition away from the practice, the federal government.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada will share a draft framework for the transition in the coming weeks and consultation will continue through early 2023 with the final phase-out plan for 79 open-net pen farms expected to be released at next spring, the ministry said.
A separate consultation process is underway with First Nations and license holders for fish farms around the Discovery Islands, which are located along a key migration route for wild salmon between Vancouver Island and the mainland British Columbia. Meanwhile, the department said licenses for Atlantic salmon facilities in that region are not being renewed and a final decision is expected next January.
Aquaculture operators around the Discovery Islands had already begun to scale back after former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced in late 2020 that 19 salmon farms would be phased out by the end of this month.
However, a Federal Court judge overturned that decision two months ago, forcing Ottawa to rework its transition plan for the region.
Salmon farms Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood had sought a judicial review of the order that prevented them from restocking their farms, arguing it lacked reasons and “did not show an appreciation of the facts”.
In her April ruling, Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan found that the Minister’s order violated the right to procedural fairness owed to fish farms.
Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray’s mandate letter tasks her with transitioning fish farming out of B.C. waters by 2025.
His department’s statement on Wednesday said Pacific salmon face ‘historic threats’ and its mandate to protect them includes moving away from open-net farms, which studies have shown can spread disease to salmon migrating wild animals.
Two-year license renewals outside the Discovery Islands come with ‘stricter requirements’, he said, including the implementation of standardized reporting requirements and lice management plans. fish, as well as wild salmon monitoring.
Ottawa is “taking action to protect and return wild salmon to abundance and ensure Canada is a world leader in sustainable aquaculture,” Murray said in the release.
The transition plan for the aquaculture industry will include “new technologies, while reducing or eliminating interactions with wild Pacific salmon,” she said.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan had written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March, saying any plans to move away from open-pen salmon farms in the province should be accompanied by support for the industry and its workers.
Josie Osborne, British Columbia’s minister responsible for fisheries, and Fin Donnelly, parliamentary secretary for fisheries and aquaculture, said in a statement that the province is committed to working with Ottawa on a net farm plan. that balances the protection of wild salmon, the environment and the economy and respects British Columbia’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.
“Our government has been extremely clear on the need for a comprehensive federal support plan for First Nations and communities that depend on salmon farming for their livelihoods, as well as exploring new technologies and economic opportunities for the industry in these regions,” he added. said.
A statement from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs called for the consultation process to be a step towards the complete removal of fish farms from BC waters.
The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance and the BC Salmon Farmers Association released a joint statement saying the decision to renew 79 licenses is a “key validation of the importance of the salmon farming industry to rural communities and coastal”.
He said procedural fairness and greater certainty are needed to help build Canada’s so-called blue economy and to support an affordable food supply.
The industry wanted a six-year license to reflect its production cycle, and longer renewals “would have given the confidence to invest more in innovation and technology,” said alliance chairman Timothy Kennedy. , in the press release.
The Watershed Watch Salmon Society said Ottawa had signaled that open-net salmon farming was coming to an end in British Columbia, but the decision ‘does little to protect wild salmon off the islands. Discovery” during the two-year renewal period.
“Whether this decision provides immediate relief to wild salmon outside the Discovery Islands will depend on new farm management rules…and how they are enforced,” he said in a statement calling the slaughter of fish when companies exceed the sea lice threshold, disease testing and the prohibition of transfers of infected fish.