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North Island MP calls for economic transition summit

Phasing out fish farms will result in 1,500 job losses for North Island communities
A Mowi salmon farm -- one of 19 being shut down in the Discovery Islands region by June 30, 2022. | Submitted

Rachel Blaney, the NDP MP for North Island-Powell River, is asking federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan for an “urgent” summit, following last month’s decision to shut down all open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands region.

Nearly a month after Jordan announced all open-net salmon farms must be gone from the region by June 30 2022, Blaney has written to Jordan expressing concern about the impact of the decision on Vancouver Island communities and the lack of any transition plan.

An estimated 1,500 jobs will be lost as a result of Jordan’s order.

In a January 11 letter to Jordan, Blaney asks Jordan for “an urgent regional economic development summit” for North Vancouver Island. She says the federal government is needed at the table to discuss “an economic transition plan for this region.”

Blaney may have a delicate path to tread when it comes to salmon farming in her riding. While she is the MP for a region that will be hit hard by Jordan’s order, she is also married to one of the region’s chiefs who oppose fish farming – Homalco (Xwe’malhkwu) Chief Darren Blaney.

The Homalco are among the First Nations in the region that have lobbied for the removal of open-net salmon farms.

“Homalco has stood united with our neighbouring First Nations and allies in opposing these fish farms,” Chief Blaney wrote in a new release December 17, in response to Jordan’s phase out open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

“The Homalco Nation welcomes Fisheries Minster Bernadette Jordan’s announcement that all open-pen fish farming in the Discovery Islands is being phased out by June 30, 2022.”

In her letter to Jordan, MP Rachel Blaney writes: “We acknowledge the nation-to-nation decision and understand that for the protection of wild salmon we must continue to work together to do everything we can to protect and rebuild critical wild salmon stocks

“However, North Island communities have been particularly hard hit this past year and it is difficult to imagine how workers, families and communities will get through without urgent federal assistance to mitigate the impact of this decision.

“We need a coordinated approach to this pressing economic challenge.”

John Paul Fraser, executive director for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said Jordan made her decision to accelerate the phasing out of open-net fish farms without consulting the fish farming industry and with no clear plan in place to deal with the fallout.

The people employed in the region’s fish farming industry aren’t interested in government hand-outs or economic transition plans, he said.

“I’m not interested in talking, at this point, about federal assistance and economic transition, when we have an industry right now that’s excellent, that operates at world-class standards and in fact met the obligations of the Cohen Commission,” he said.

If any transition plan the federal government had in mind was to involve the industry – transitioning from open-net to hybrid land-ocean systems, for example – Jordan’s decision has now precluded that from happening, Fraser said.

“I don’t think this government, which apparently wants to see transition, really understands that everything they’re doing contributes to that actually not happening,” Fraser said.

“Companies have already suspended new investment. Capital investment is drying up. Investment in new technology, which is very expensive, is drying up.

“For a government that says it’s interested in advancing new technology, all it’s doing is creating an environment that makes those kinds of investments impossible to attract.”

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