An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia's salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling "disposable and discarded." In a letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren't consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen fish farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

Vancouver Island mayors say they weren’t consulted on B.C. fish farm phase out plan

Concerns and outrage over federal decision on Discovery Islands’ open-net pen farming continue

Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia’s salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling “disposable and discarded.”

In an open letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren’t consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months.

Jordan said earlier this month the decision came after hearing unanimous opposition to the farms from local First Nations.

“You made this decision without even speaking to the industry nor locally elected officials who deeply understand B.C.’s salmon farming communities and have a direct interest in your action,” the letter says.

“Be advised that we will no longer sit on the sidelines and will be pursuing every possible option to remedy this untenable situation.”

The Discovery Islands act as a bottleneck along wild salmon migration routes and eliminating the fish farms was a key recommendation made in 2012 by the Cohen Commission on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.

However, the recommendation was contingent on the Fisheries Department finding the farms posed “more than a minimal risk of serious harm” to the health of migrating sockeye by Sept. 20, 2020.

On Sept. 28, the department said scientific assessments had found nine pathogens from farmed salmon in the islands posed a minimal risk to wild stocks. The risk of the viruses transferring from farmed to wild Fraser River stocks was less than one per cent, it said.

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said instead of allowing the farms to continue, the government announced a new consultation process that excluded the industry. He learned about the phase out 15 minutes before the government announced it, he said.

“That’s what we’re looking at here, a decision that was not well conceived, certainly ill-informed and did not in any way contemplate the consequences not just of the Campbell River economy, but really the whole economy of Vancouver Island,” Fraser said.

Workers in the industry were classified as essential under COVID-19 restrictions, only to learn before Christmas that their jobs would be lost without a say, he said.

“Now we just feel discarded, you go from thinking you’re doing something important and we can build on it to now being treated like it doesn’t matter.”

The letter says the move will eliminate about 1,500 jobs and could put the entire $1.6-billion provincial industry at risk.

It is signed by mayors in Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Gold River, as well as 11 industry representatives.

Jordan said in a statement that she plans to meet with industry and community representatives in early 2021 to discuss the transition.

“The decision to phase out fish farms in the Discovery Islands was not an easy one. It was made after many consultations and weighing many factors,” she said.

Aquaculture plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy, but the farms in the Discovery Islands are a “specific case,” she said.

The licences were renewed on an annual basis — unlike others that had been granted longer tenures — “always with the understanding that a decision regarding their permanent status would be made by December 2020,” Jordan said.

Under the plan, 19 existing farms in the Discovery Islands had their licences renewed for 18 months. The farms are not allowed to add new fish during that period, and can only grow and harvest the existing stocks until they are empty.

Phasing out net-pen fish farming in B.C. waters by 2025 was a Liberal campaign promise in the federal election.

Dean Dobrinsky, director of human resources and communications for fish farm company Mowi, said the company has about 17 farms in the area, although some straddle boundaries and the department hasn’t communicated which farms are at issue.

He said the impact of the decision goes much further than the local farms, as supply chains link them with a fish processing plant in Port Hardy and distribution networks in Surrey and beyond.

The Discovery Island farms comprise about 30 per cent of Mowi’s B.C. salmon production and the company will have to assess whether that loss means cutbacks in other areas of the business.

“When you take out that production and you don’t have an obvious option to replace it, you start looking at whether our business is viable,” he said.

The Discovery Islands are in the traditional territory of the Homalco, Klahoose, K’omoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations.

When the phase out was announced, Homalco Chief Darren Blaney said it was a relief to members of the First Nation.

Fish farms are one of several threats facing the salmon, alongside climate change, warming waters and habitat loss, he said.

“It feels like it’s been such a long time, you know, to watch our salmon dwindle and dwindle and our community get less and less food fish each year, it was hard to bear,” he said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Fish Farms

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

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Volunteer firefighters from Grand Forks Fire/Rescue head towards the scene of fatal car crash near Gibbs Creek Road, below Highway 3, Thursday evening, Jan. 21. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Motorist dies in Highway 3 crash west of Grand Forks

City first responders were called to the scene Thursday evening, Jan. 21

Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram could be playing for Colorado when the NHL resumes play. (Rik Fedyck/file)
Cranbrook product Bowen Byram makes NHL debut with Avalanche

Highly touted prospect marks first pro game following World Junior tournament in Alberta

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Most Read