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Environmentalists question fish farm applications

DFO considering applications for fish farm expansions, despite ministerial order calling for them to be phased
Since salmon farms like this one are to be phased out in B.C., environmentalists question applications for new ones. | Mowi

Environmental groups are questioning applications by salmon farmers in B.C. that would expand operations outside of the Discovery Islands, where salmon farms are to be phased out by 2022.

There are currently 12 applications in to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, one of which is for a new salmon farm site located between the Discovery Islands and Broughton Archipelago.

The rest of the applications are for production capacity expansions at existing salmon farms, or for adding additional open-net pens.

Wastershed Watch, the David Suzuki Foundation, Clayoquot Action and Living Oceans issued a joint press today saying DFO should not even be entertaining the applications, given the mandate the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans was given by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to start phasing out all open-net salmon farms in B.C. by 2025.

“It is outrageous that DFO would even consider increasing fish farm capacity or production levels in, of all places, Clayoquot Sound,” Dan Lewis, executive director for Clayoquot Action, said in a press release. “This is heading in the opposite direction of the federal government’s commitment to remove salmon farms from B.C. waters by 2025.”

“All proposed factory farm expansions should be denied by the government given their harm to wild salmon, the extremely poor returns of wild salmon and the federal government’s commitment to remove them by 2025, ” said Stan Proboszcz, science adviser for Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

John Paul Fraser, executive director for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said no one yet knows how the federal policy for transitioning away from open-net salmon farms in B.C. will work or on what timelines -- just that it is supposed to start in 2025.

"The pre-consultation would demonstrate that there is no definition," he said. "We should all probably be pretty agnostic about what transition is. Is that technology, is that process, is that UNDRIP? What is it?"

Salmon farms in the Discovery Islands must all be gone by 2022, by order of the minister of Fisheries and Oceans. First Nations in that area are adamantly opposed to open-net fish farms in that area, which is a migration route for Fraser River sockeye.

Some salmon farms operating in other parts of B.C. have the support of some First Nations, however. The Tlowitsis First Nation in Campbell River, for example, are partnered with Grieg Seafood in an application to create a new salmon farm on the eastern side of Chatham Channel, about one kilometre south of the Chatham Channel and Knight Inlet junction. The proposed new fish farm would have maximum production capacity of 4,400 tonnes.

The Tlowitsis First Nation is hosting an open house tonight on the proposal.

There is currently a provincial moratorium on new fish farms that requires First Nations support for any new salmon farms. In the case of the proposed new salmon farm in Chatham Channel, clearly it has the support of the Tslowitsis, which is the applicant. The new salmon farm would actually be owned by the Tlowitsis.

The Discovery Islands represented about 25% of all salmon farm production in B.C., and and estimated 1500 jobs, $21.5 million in tax revenue and $20 million in spending on services and supplies.

Salmon farmers are hoping to make up for the loss of that production in the Discovery Islands by expanding operations elsewhere. Some of the applications in to DFO would be for increased production at existing farms and additional net pens.

Meanwhile, the denial of renewal permits for some salmon farms in the Discovery Islands is currently being contested in court. Salmon farmers with operations being shut down in the Discovery Islands launched a Federal Court judicial review, which is still playing out in the courts.

In December 2020, former federal Fisheries and Oceans minister Bernadette Jordan ordered that all open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands were to be phased out in that area by June 2022. There were a total of 19 farms in that area, and some have already been phased out.

That area was targeted based on a recommendation by the Cohen Commission, which was struck to look into a precipitous decline in Fraser River salmon in 2009.

The commission found no smoking gun that would suggest the decline was linked to salmon farms. But given the Discovery Islands lies in the migratory route of Fraser River sockeye, the commission recommended that all salmon farms in that region be phased out by 2022, as a precautionary measure, unless the minister was satisfied that the farms posed "at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.”

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