Government bans, companies halt investment in BC

Just one day after the Government of Canada announced a ban on open net-pen salmon farming in BC by 2029, Grieg Seafood said it was temporarily halting its investments.
Aerial view of fish farming, British Columbia, Canada.

Aerial view of a fish farm in British Columbia, Canada. Five years from now this image might not exist.

Photo: Adobe Stock. 

In British Columbia, as the Government set its standards, companies set theirs. While Cermaq Canada and Mowi Canada West are considering their next moves following the open net-pen salmon farming ban, Grieg Seafood BC has already taken a first step in announcing a temporary investment halt in the wake of Canada's new regulations on salmon farming in the province.

As WeAreAquaculture reported, Canada will ban open net-pen salmon aquaculture in British Columbia in 2029. Thereafter, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will only renew licenses for closed containment systems, marine or land-based, and, pending that time, the current salmon farming licenses in BC, which expire on the last day of this month, will be extended for an additional five years.

Predictably, the announcement provoked an immediate backlash from salmon companies with a presence in British Columbia. Among them, the Norwegian seafood company Grieg was the most concise in its statements, but also the most categorical in its actions.

"Grieg Seafood will temporarily halt any investments in British Columbia, Canada, amid new salmon aquaculture regulations in the country," it said.

Adding that it was making this decision "after the Canadian government banned open net-pen salmon aquaculture in the province's coastal waters by June 30, 2029" the Norwegian-owned company said it will wait for the preliminary transition plan, expected by the end of July, before deciding on its next move.

Growing uncertainty in international investment in BC and Canada

In contrast to Grieg's conciseness, Cermaq was much more eloquent in its statement, which began by warning of the "continued uncertainty for aquaculture in Canada" posed by the Government's decision and went on to state that it is "deeply concerned" about the future of the industry in British Columbia following this week's announcement.

"The announcement contributes to a growing uncertainty in international investment in British Columbia and Canada," said Cermaq CEO, Steven Rafferty. "While every other salmon producing country has farming licenses of at least 25 years duration or eternal duration, the short license length in British Columbia continues to be a barrier to significant investment, despite our strong willingness to grow the industry."

Noting that Cermaq has been "a responsible and willing partner throughout the transition process" - the company has been even testing a semi-closed containment system in BC for some time now - Rafferty added that this decision limits any further opportunities for a modern salmon industry in the province.

"We will take time to study the detail of the announcements and consider our next steps. For the moment, our concerns are with our employees, indigenous partners and all the families impacted by the continuous fear of loss of employment," he continued.

David Kiemele, Managing Director of Cermaq Canada, spoke along the same lines. "Over the last four years, we have worked hard to meaningfully engage in the process set out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in support of a healthy salmon farming sector and healthy wild salmon populations," he said. "It is extremely disappointing to see that engagement has not resulted in a better understanding of our company and the realities of the limitations of certain innovation pathways."

"We are also disappointed to witness a complete lack of proper consultation with our Indigenous partners. This announcement will have significant negative impacts on the rural, coastal and Indigenous communities that we operate and could result in a very real possibility that we will not be able to deliver on our commitments to our First Nation’s protocol agreements and most importantly reconciliation," he concluded.

Operational EBIT amounted to EUR 0 million in Q1 2024

Neither as concise as Grieg, nor as eloquent as Cermaq, but equally concerned, Mowi also issued its own statement on the Government of Canada's new policy to abandon traditional marine salmon farms in the province of British Columbia, proposing to move BC salmon farms to closed confinement systems or to land.

"The unfortunate announcement comes despite our efforts to pave the way for future sustainable growth and employment, including a thorough consultation process involving multiple stakeholders as well as gaining strong support over the years from the local communities in which we operate," said the company.

"We are disappointed with the decision since traditional marine salmon farming is absolutely sustainable, thus the basis for the decision lacks scientific merit," the statement continued.

Mowi, which said it will now take the time to examine the announcement more closely and explore its "available options" before taking the appropriate action, recalled it has 46 seawater licenses in BC and harvested 19k GWT in Canada West in 2023, revenues totaled EUR 149 million and Operational EBIT reached EUR 11 million. 

Finally, who knows if by way of a premonition of the future that may await the industry in BC after the Government's decision, the Norwegian-owned salmon company added: "In the first quarter 2024 Mowi Canada West’s Operational EBIT amounted to EUR 0 million."

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