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Fish farmers launch legal challenge of fish farm closures

Salmon farmers and First Nations file for judicial review of Discovery Islands decision
Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray reaffirmed predecessor's order to shut down salmon farms in Discovery Islands. | Nelson Bennett

Three salmon farming companies and two First Nations that support fish farming are challenging federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray’s decision last month not to renew federal licences for 15 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

Grieg Seafood, Mowi Canada West, Cermaq and the We Wai Kai and Wai Wai Kum First Nations yesterday filed with the Federal Court for a judicial review.

Mowi Canada said it had an obligation to its employees to fight what it called an "unlawful" government decision. More than 300 Mowi workers have lost their jobs as a result of the federal Fisheries minister's orders shutting down salmon farms, according to the company's filings in support of a judicial review.

“Mowi has an obligation to protect its employees, fish and business at large from significant harm caused by unlawful and unreasonable government decisions," the company said in an email to BIV News.

"The continued absence of procedural fairness afforded by both ministers throughout the process of licensing renewals within the Discovery Islands region leaves our company no other option than to seek the court’s intervention.”

As for the We Wai Kai and Wei Wei Kum, they are seeking a declaration that the Fisheries minister's order "was inconsistent with the honour of the Crown and constitutes a breach of Canada’s duty to consult and accommodate the applicants in respect of their aboriginal rights and title."

On February 17, Murray announced by press release that her predecessor’s order shutting down open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands by June 2022 would stand.

In 2020, former Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan had informed salmon farmers in the Discovery Islands that their federal licences would not be renewed, and ordered all salmon farms in the region off the water by June 2022.

Those farms represented about 25 per cent of the salmon farming production in B.C. All but one of the salmon farms in that had operated in the region have vacated the area.

While they complied with the order to shut down their operations, salmon farmers successfully challenged Jordan's decree in court. A Federal Court last year found Jordan’s order lacked procedural fairness and it was set aside. 

As her successor, Murray was obliged to hold a round of consultations with the industry and other stakeholders, but at the end of the day she reaffirmed her predecessor’s original decision not to renew 15 of 19 federal licences.

One chinook salmon farm operated by a company called Saltstream will continue to operate in the Discovery Islands. All the rest have vacated the area.

On Monday, three companies that had salmon farms in the area -- Mowi Canada, Grieg Seafood and Cermaq -- filed for another judicial review.

In an email to BIV News, Grieg explained its reasoning for filing another judicial review. At the very least, the company said a judicial review would force the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to provide documents that informed Murray’s decision making.

“Grieg is disappointed in the decision and the implication it could have on both B.C. and Canada,” said Amy Jonsson, Grieg’s
communications director. “The filing will allow Grieg to access DFO documents which will provide insight into the decision-making process the minister, which is important to understand for future planning and development.”

Tony Allard, chairman of Wild Salmon Forever, said as long as open-net salmon farms are allowed to operate in B.C., there will be no incentive for investors to invest in land-based farms here.

"The chairman of Grieg -- Per Grieg -- of course is sponsoring a land-based farm in Japan," Allard said. "So it just shows the industry is not opposed to land based -- it's just they'd rather pollute British Columbia for free."

Allard referred to a land based salmon farm being built in Japan by Proximar Seafood. Per Grieg, chairman of Grieg Seafood, is a member of Proximar's board of directors.

"To me it's pretty apparent that they believe in the industry," Allard said. "They just don't believe in it when they're allowed to pollute for free somewhere else."

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