A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. Today (Dec. 17) Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan gave B.C. salmon farm operators 18 months to deactivate farms in the Discovery Islands. (Quinn Bender photo)

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. Today (Dec. 17) Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan gave B.C. salmon farm operators 18 months to deactivate farms in the Discovery Islands. (Quinn Bender photo)

Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

Federal government gives operators 18 months to grow-out their last harvest

B.C. salmon farm operators have been given 18 months to clear out of the Discovery Islands.

The decision today announced by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan ends a long campaign among wild salmon advocates to rid a critical migratory route of open-net pen farms.

Independent biologist Alexandra Morton, who spearheaded much of the research and activism against the farms, learned of the decision from Black Press Media.

“You told me the best news in 35 years of this fight,” she said.

“I’ve been studying these little sockeye for so long. This means they’re going to get to sea alive. This means we can start reversing that decline. I realize salmon farms are not the entire problem, but if they’re not getting to sea, nothing else is going to matter. I stand in awe of the First Nations leadership that made this happen.”

READ MORE: Can B.C. salmon farmers play a bigger role in post-pandemic economic recovery?

A number of factors are blamed for B.C.’s dwindling salmon populations, including over-fishing, climate change, warming waters, and increased predation. Open-net pens have the potential to act as reservoirs for naturally occurring sea lice and pathogens that transfer to out-migrating juvenile fish. Salmon farm opponents believe farms in the Discovery Islands are a leading cause of the decline.

Jordan’s decision follows three months of consultations with industry and seven area First Nations on whether to renew the 19 area licences, set to expire Dec. 18.

“The joy that’s going to happen from this result is going to be far-reaching for many salmon warriors across the province,” Bob Chamberlain, chair of the First Nations Salmon Alliance said.

Chamberlain stressed the decision has the potential for immediate positive impact, as farms in a key route in the Okisollo Channel will complete their harvests before the next out-migration.

“There is significant benefit here — I’m so happy,” he said. “We’ve had two historic low returns, and I’m not sure if people connect what that means for future generations. It means historic low salmon eggs as well. And it’s established fact that only one to four per cent of juveniles make it back as spawners. Even if there are no impacts or barriers, when these fish return we’re going to have another historic low. We’re on a very critical downward spiral, so what’s happened today will have a significant benefit right away.”

The Living Oceans Society, David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice were among the first conservation groups to also issue statements celebrating the news.

About 80 per cent of the 3 million farmed salmon currently stocked in the island group are expected to be harvested by April, according to the fisheries ministry. Currently, just nine of the 19 licenced Discovery Islands farms contain salmon.

The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in these narrow waterways by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) risk assessments this year found the impacts were below that critical threshold, but public pressure resulted in recent consultations and today’s decision.

“British Columbians and Indigenous peoples have been very clear that they wanted to be part of the decisions of what’s done in their coastal waters and territories. We’re listening to them,” Jordan said in a telephone interview. “What we heard was they did not want [the farms] there.

“It was an extremely difficult decision for me. I know there are people whose jobs are impacted, communities that are impacted, and that’s why I did not take this decision lightly.”

The 18-month grace period allows time for the completion of the fishes’ growth cycle before harvest, but operators are not permitted to add any new stocks to the Discovery Islands sites. The farms must be fish free by June 30, 2022.

DFO will immediately begin working with the industry on a transition plan.

READ MORE: B.C.’s declining fisheries the result of poor DFO management: audit

‘A bad time’: salmon farmers

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) was disapointed by today’s decision, and has previously stated they feel public opposition is mired in the belief of outdated practices that don’t account for innovations, monitoring standards and treatments put in place since the release of the Cohen Commission report eight years ago.

“This decision has significant implications and puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk,” BCSFA spokesperson Shawn Hall said. “This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important. We have just received this decision, and will be taking some time to consider it and speak with the numerous companies and communities involved in salmon farming in the province before commenting further.”

According to the BCSFA the industry as a whole supports about 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province. Farmed salmon has a landed value of $772.5 million annually and is B.C.’s leading food export worth $562 million in 2019.

A recent report commissioned by the BCSFA shows the industry is poised to begin investments worth $1.4 billion over the next 30 years that could generate $44 billion in economic output and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050.

For that to happen, the sector needs to see a “predictable policy approach” to salmon farming from the provincial and federal governments.

Ottawa aims to develop a plan by 2025 to transition all open-net pens out of B.C. waters, which salmon-farm activists have interpreted as a move to in-land operations, but the industry says the ecological footprint and economic costs would be too great. Two likely options are closed and semi-closed containment systems that offer a physical barrier between farmed salmon and wild fish.

READ MORE: B.C. trials of new salmon farm containment system underway

It remains to be seen how today’s decision will affect industry optimism, but Jordan said the sector will remain an important part of the federal government’s Blue Economy Strategy, as broad consultations on what that will look like begin in early 2021.

“I believe that aquaculture has a place on the B.C. coast. It employs thousands of people and is a really important part of the B.C. economy. But we want to make sure we’re working with them [industry] to make sure it’s sustainable … and those are the kind of things that will be part of the consultation process going forward.”



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Fisheries and Oceans CanadaSalmon farming

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil Friday evening (May 7) to remember 29-year-old corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, who was killed in last weekend’s brazen daylight shooting outside North Delta’s Scottsdale Centre mall. (James Smith photo)
Hundreds gather to remember victim of North Delta shooting

Corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, was killed in what police say was a targeted incident

Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford and Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux. (Contributed photos)
BC NDP ‘chose to create a system of chaos’ by holding back COVID-19 data: Cadieux

South Surrey MLAs criticize provincial government after BCCDC documents leak

Flags flown at half mast out front of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for slain corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa. (Neil Corbett/ The News)
Public vigil and flying flags at half mast done to honour slain prison guard

Maple Ridge corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, is being remembered in a number of ways

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
Surrey woman a face of World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign in London, New York

‘It’s so important we find better treatments,’ Catherine Eiswerth says

The map shows the number of COVID-19 cases for the week of April 25 to May 1. The darkest areas indicate communities with a daily average of more than 20 cases per 100,000 population. (BC Centre of Disease Control)
Surrey and Abbotsford battle for top COVID hotspot in Fraser Health

Two communities are among areas across province showing highest transmission

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mandeep Grewal was gunned down outside an Abbotsford bank in October 2018. Police said a violent gang war to control drug-line territory was going on at that time. Drug charges have now been announced against seven people. (FILE PHOTO: John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
7 people face 38 charges related to gang drug activity in Abbotsford and Mission

Police say investigation began in 2018 into expansion of Brothers Keepers’ drug line

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

Most Read