Discovery Islands Passage British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Discovery Islands Passage British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Discovery Islands salmon farms closure to be decided in court

All against the closure of the Discovery Islands salmon farms. That seems to be the watchword after earlier this week the three major British Columbia salmon producers, Mowi Canada West, Grieg Seafood BC, and Cermaq Canada each filed judicial review applications against the decision by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Joyce Murray not to renew the licenses of the Discovery Islands salmon farms. The applications by the three companies, which were filed separately but on the same day, run parallel to another by the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First Nations also seeking to overturn the Minister's decision, in their case on the basis that their indigenous rights, which they believe, were not respected. What initially appeared to be a political decision will finally be decided in court.

An important part of the economy of British Columbia

As soon as learning about Ministry Murray's Discovery Island license decision, Mowi already said it would study the legal options. The company stated then that the decision was a further blow to BC's largest agricultural export and to all coastal communities in the region that depend on salmon farming as a major economic driver, and it has now emphasized this in its lawsuit as well. This was reiterated in point 10 of the grounds of the application filed with the court.

"Atlantic salmon aquaculture is an important part of the economy of British Columbia, particularly for coastal communities. Mowi is highly involved in the coastal communities located near its operations. The company has made significant investments in employee training, infrastructure, and local contractors over the past 30 years. Prior to the decision to eliminate aquaculture in the Discovery Islands region, Mowi had 645 employees in British Columbia, a significant number of whom were Indigenous. Since the Minister's decision to prohibit aquaculture in the Discovery Islands, Mowi's workforce has been reduced to 312 employees", it has argued.

And it is precisely their workers that Mowi Canada West emphasizes in the statement it shared with WeAreAquaculture. "Mowi has an obligation to protect its employees, fish and business at large from significant harm caused by unlawful and unreasonable government decisions", it says. "The continued absence of procedural fairness afforded by both Ministers throughout the process of licensing renewals within the Discovery Islands region leaves our company no other option than to seek the court's intervention".

Ensuring the sustainability of operations

Along with Mowi, with eleven sites in the area, another hard-hit producer is Cermaq. The company, which so far has not made any statement on the court review application filed this week, did say at the time of the announcement of the non-renewal of Discovery Islands' licenses that the decision made "no sense" and that it would review it in more detail. "This decision provides no stability to our company and greatly impacts our employees who have experienced a tumultuous few years, as this latest decision was contemplated over several iterations of flawed engagement attempts by DFO", said Cermaq Canada last February.

Who did make a brief statement was Grieg Seafood BC, which has one site in the area. Its Director of Communications, Amy Jonsson, told WeAreAquaculture that "the filing will allow Grieg to access DFO documents which will provide insight into the decision-making process the Minister, which is important to understand for future planning and development". A month ago, when the decision became public, its CEO, Jennifer Woodland, said it went against DFO's own science and was an unsubstantiated reaction to a complex and multi-layered issue.

Woodland then added that the decision also had implications for local Nations who wish to use aquaculture to help to advance their holistic marine management plans. In the statement shared this week, the company continues in the same vein. "Grieg Seafood BC will continue to work with local First Nations, communities, and suppliers to ensure that it continues to operate in a sustainable manner and meets the expectations of both the regulator (DFO) and the Nations in whose territories it operates", it stated.

Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First Nations also go to court

The commitment of BC salmon farming companies to local First Nations in the Discovery Islands is a constant in all industry proposals and negotiations with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and its Minister, Joyce Murray. As the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, Brian Kingzett, told WeAreAquaculture in an interview, "the sector is not going to farm where they are not wanted", but, as the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) asked for, it should be up to the indigenous communities of British Columbia on whose territories salmon farming is practiced to decide "if, when and how" the industry operates in their waters.

This was expressed by several Chiefs and leaders who recently went to the Canadian Parliament asking that no more salmon farms be closed in those indigenous territories of BC where communities do want them. And not just there, the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First Nations have also done so in court. In parallel to the case filed with Mowi, Cermaq and Grieg Seafood, both local Nations have also asked for the Minister's decision to be overturned on the basis that their indigenous rights were not respected by the Minister.

As in the case of the salmon-producing companies, this is also not the first time the FNFFS has expressed disappointment with Murray's decision. "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 when learned about the decision. "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", he added.

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