Canadian aquaculture industry disappointed with Government’s decision on Discovery Islands licenses

The industry thinks DFO ignores science and First Nations rights and title, in addition to costing jobs for rural Canadians and affecting consumers' pocketbooks.
BC Salmon Farm located in Discovery Islands region prior to farms being removed. Photo: BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).
BC Salmon Farm located in Discovery Islands region prior to farms being removed. Photo: BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

Following the announcement by Canada's Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, not to renew the licenses of fifteen open-net Atlantic salmon aquaculture facilities in Discovery Islands, British Columbia, the industry's reaction was swift. "Disappointed" has been the most repeated word in the releases of the three main associations affected by the decision, as well as by Mowi, the first company to speak out.

According to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, the resolution "goes against science, costs rural Canadians jobs and hits consumers in the pocketbook". BC Salmon Farmers Association, for its part, has called it "a devastating decision" as DFO ignores both science and First Nations rights and title. Finally, the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship stated that it is extremely disappointed by Minister Murray "for not respecting the sovereign authority of the Laich-kwil-tach First Nations (the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai) to decide if, when, or how they want to operate finfish aquaculture in their traditional waters".

Canada's food security and affordability, at risk

In a statement released after Minister Murray's resolution, the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) has called for an immediate review and reversal of the decision. "We are deeply disappointed and disturbed at the Canadian government's decision to ignore their own science and the requests of First Nations, by declining to renew select salmon farming licenses in the Discovery Islands region of British Columbia", it said.

The Alliance stressed the decision not only goes against First Nations reconciliation but, as they have previously pointed out, also increases the cost of food for Canadians and undermines food security. In addition, the CAIA also recalled that this resolution will have far-reaching implications for employment and economic opportunities for people in rural, coastal, and indigenous communities, as well as for its global trade markets.

"Now, because of government actions that are based on politics and not facts, Canada's food security and affordability is at risk at a time when access to low-carbon proteins has never been more important. This decision means that Canadian salmon is costing more for families, is harder to find in grocery stores and is being replaced by farm-raised salmon flown in from elsewhere in the world", it claimed.   

According to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, government frameworks should support the attraction of business capital, job creation in rural, coastal, and indigenous communities, and the domestic production of healthy food. "This decision does the opposite", the CAIA concluded.

"Willfully uninformed decision"

The BC Salmon Farms Association (BCSFA) also expressed its opinion along the same lines.  The BCSFA considers this decision to be "short-sighted", as the permanent elimination of these farms will have devastating consequences for the rural coastal communities that depend on this sector, but also for British Columbia and Canada as a whole, as salmon farming is British Columbia's largest agricultural export. "Local communities have been hurting since the decision to remove the farms was announced in 2020, and thanks to this willfully uninformed decision announced earlier today, these communities will continue to experience negative socio-economic impacts of an outcome that was based on politics rather than science", said its Executive Director, Brian Kingzett.

Moreover, the BCSFA assured they know that anti-salmon farming campaigners were given an early signal that a decision would be given today, before impacted First Nations or industry. "The Federal government continues to demonstrate a lack of care for rural coastal communities and continues to put the interests of activists above the people who grow Canada's food", said Kingzett. "It is unacceptable that activist groups had advance notice, before licence holders and community leaders", he concluded.

Let's recall that in the announcement of the resolution, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) stated that Minister Murray had taken the decision "after extensive consultations with First Nations, industry and others, and after closely considering the submissions received". Likewise, DFO also concluded by saying that it remains committed to developing "a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbian waters to ensure sustainable next-generation aquaculture in Canada".

However, following this resolution, the BC Salmon Farmers Association wanted to set itself apart. "This decision will also significantly reduce the sector's ability to attract required investments for clean technology and innovations to evolve the sector", said BCSFA Executive Director, Brian Kingzett. "This means we cannot support the Federal Government's commitment to transforming the sector as we continue to experience uncertainty and reckless decision-making by Ottawa", he ended.

Beyond procedural unfairness

For its part, the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFS) thinks Minister Murray has made the decision not to re-issue any licenses in the core territory of the Laich-kwil-tach Nations (the 'Discovery Islands') even though last year the federal court overturned on grounds of procedural unfairness the previous DFO minister's decision to close 19 fish farms in the area without proper consultation with First Nations and industry.

"Today's decision unfortunately feels beyond procedural unfairness after many months of meetings with the Minister, her department, and DFO staff",  said Dallas Smith, spokesperson for the Coalition. "The Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First Nations sent a thoughtful proposal to DFO in November to re-issue some licences in their core territories. They put forward a cautionary approach to explore how and if finfish farming could be part of their Nations' overall vision to manage their marine space. This decision to deny all licences in their territories has sent the Nations back to the drawing board in that regard".

The proposal outlined a phased plan for the possible reintroduction of a number of fish farms in Laich-kwil-tach waters that would be led and overseen by the Nations and their management programs. These facilities would operate in collaboration with Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood BC. "First Nations from the coast are trying to find their feet when it comes to reclaiming what was taken away from them by the federal government. Whether it's creating Marine Protected Areas or deciding whether they want to host fish farms, coastal Nations are trying to take back their inherent rights to manage their traditional waters", Smith added.

"This was not about protecting the sector or the companies operating in it – this was about the sovereignty of the Laich-kwil-tach Nations and their right to decide for themselves whether salmon farming, or any other resource, is the right fit for their marine plans. Unfortunately, the decision was once again taken away from them by a government located 5,000 kms away from their territories", the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship spokesperson ended.

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