Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has announced the federal government won’t renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms around British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.
Murray says in a news release the Discovery Islands area is a key migration route for wild salmon where narrow passages bring migrating juvenile salmon into close contact with the farms.
She says recent science indicates uncertainty over the risks posed by the farms to wild salmon, and the federal government is committed to developing a responsible plan to transition away from open-net farming in coastal B.C. waters.
Open-net fish farms off B.C.’s coast have been a significant flashpoint, with environmental groups and a few Indigenous nations saying the farms are linked to the transfer of disease to wild salmon, while the industry and a few local politicians say hundreds of jobs are threatened if operations are phased out.
“I even have to consider the plight of untamed salmon, that are in a state of significant decline,” she said in an interview Friday.
She said the choice got here after extensive consultations with First Nations, the industry and others, and the department is taking a “highly precautionary” approach to managing salmon farming in the world.
Murray said she called First Nations and industry representatives Friday before announcing what she said was a difficult but vital decision to guard wild salmon from the potential risks posed by farmed fish.
“There have been some assessments from DFO that suggest minimal risk and there’s also been science since that primary assessment that has been suggesting that there may be risk from the viruses and sea lice from the farms,” she said.
Within the news release she says there are multiple stressors on wild salmon, including climate change, habitat degradation and each regulated and illegal fishing.
Murray’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked her with developing the plan to shift from open-net salmon farming in B.C. waters by 2025, while working to introduce Canada’s first Aquaculture Act.
Fisheries and Oceans said last summer that open-net salmon farms may proceed operating during a consultation process that’s currently underway, with the ultimate plan to transition 79 farms expected to be released later within the yr.
The federal government announced in December 2020 that it could phase out 19 Atlantic salmon farms within the Discovery Islands area of Vancouver Island.
It also said fish farm licences wouldn’t be renewed.
Former B.C. premier John Horgan sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last March saying there’s widespread concern the federal government is poised to make a call that would threaten a whole bunch of jobs and the economies of coastal communities.
Horgan urged the prime minister to guarantee the salmon farming sector that an appropriate transition program can be implemented and must include First Nations and communities that depend on fish farms economically.
The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association has said an economic evaluation concluded the province could lose greater than 4,700 jobs and as much as $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if salmon farm licences are usually not renewed.
But B.C.’s First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance says greater than 100 First Nations support the federal government’s plan to transition away from open-net salmon farms.
Alliance spokesman Bob Chamberlin said earlier wild salmon runs are suffering and decisions have to be made to assist stocks rebound.
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