The decision was expected this June but, as the BC Salmon Farmers Association Executive Director, Brian Kingzett, recalled at a press conference last week, the BC salmon industry had asked the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to delay its decision by six months. Now, without specifying whether it will be six months, the Minister's office has confirmed that the consultation on the Open-net Pen Aquaculture Transition Plan has indeed been extended.
"To respond to requests from First Nations and others, we have extended consultation on the open-net pen aquaculture transition to all interested parties through the summer," Minister Joyce Murray's office has told WeAreAquaculture in an emailed statement.
"A decision has not been made on the Transition Plan for open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia," the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) release also says. According to it, consultations are ongoing with First Nations, the Province of BC, industry, ENGOs, and British Columbians to move forward on this transition.
As mentioned, Minister Murray's office claims this extension of the consultation period until after the summer is intended to respond to requests from First Nations and other stakeholders. "Work continues in the development of the Transition Plan, incorporating feedback received through consultations," they say, and add that the Transition Plan will be shared "in due course."
However, even before talking about postponement, DFO reaffirms what its priority is in addressing this Transition Plan. "Our government is committed to protecting wild pacific salmon," they claim, "Wild pacific salmon face significant threats and we have seen many wild pacific salmon runs on the verge of collapse."
In its statement, Fisheries Ocean Canada does not close the door to aquaculture. "Canada can be a global leader in sustainable aquaculture, while also making sure we protect keystone species like wild pacific salmon," they say but do not define exactly what type of aquaculture model they are referring to.
Regarding the extra time to discuss the Transition Plan, at last week's press conference Brian Kingzett said, "We hope that any more time will allow us to have more due diligence around the discussion, and for the First Nations and the sector and our sector partners to try and explain to this fisheries Minister about the sustainability of the industry and that we were prepared to speak up this challenge and that the industry does not need to be shut down."
Explaining the sustainable possibilities of the industry is important to them because the type of aquaculture model they opt for will shape the future of the industry in British Columbia.
The BC Salmon Farmers Association has repeatedly insisted that, as it has for decades, the industry can adapt to changing conditions without abandoning farming at sea.
"We have been investing in and implementing cutting-edge technologies and innovations to improve our processes, and progressively minimize interactions with the surrounding marine environment, including wild salmon," said BCSFA Executive Director at the presentation of their report for the Transition Plan back in January
A few months ago, it seemed that the Canadian government was betting on semi-closed containment systems, and some companies such as Cermaq Canada have already started trials. However, after Minister Murray's visit to Norway and Iceland to learn about land-based aquaculture, the industry fears that this is the government's bet.
In their opinion, such an option would de facto end the salmon industry in BC. Even a report commissioned by British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food concluded that land-based salmon farming faces numerous challenges in the province.
"We know that the original mandate that was suggested was that we would all move the sector over to land and we know that we do that we will use the industry from British Columbia because on Vancouver Island, we're too far away from markets we don't have adequate power or the adequate amount of land," Brian Kingzett stated at last week's press conference.
"Also the business of land-based culture it's not fully proven yet when we look at large international experiences. But we know that if it does become viable, it will not happen in BC," he concluded.