Canada to close all salmon farms in the Discovery Islands

The government said it is taking a "highly precautionary approach" to managing Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the area.
View of the Inside Passage, where the Discovery Islands archipelago is located. Photo: Adobe Stock.
View of the Inside Passage, where the Discovery Islands archipelago is located. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Canada's Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, announced her decision not to renew the licenses of fifteen open-net Atlantic salmon aquaculture facilities in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia. The Government of Canada claimed it is taking these measures to protect wild Pacific salmon. In practice, this means closing all salmon farms in the area.

"Difficult but necessary decision"

"Pacific salmon have significant cultural, social, and ecological importance to First Nations and British Columbians, however, they are in serious, long-term decline, with many runs on the verge of collapse. The Government of Canada is taking action to protect these species". Those are the words with which Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) opened its release announcing that it would not renew salmon aquaculture licenses in the Discovery Islands.

In its announcement, DFO argues that wild salmon are subject to multiple stressors, including climate change, habitat degradation and destruction, regulated fishing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Therefore, they continue, given their situation, "the Government of Canada is taking a highly precautionary approach to manage Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the Discovery Islands area".

"The state of wild Pacific salmon is dire, and we must do what we can to ensure their survival. This was a difficult but necessary decision. By taking an enhanced precautionary approach in the Discovery Islands area, the Government of Canada will help ensure the well-being of wild Pacific salmon for our children and grandchildren", said Minister Murray. According to the DFO, she has announced her decision "after extensive consultations with First Nations, industry and others, and after closely considering the submissions received".

Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Photo: Government of Canada.

All parties appeal to science

The Fisheries and Oceans Canada release notes that the Discovery Islands area is a key migration route for wild Pacific salmon, where narrow passages bring juvenile salmon into close contact with salmon farms. "Recent science indicates that there is uncertainty with respect to the risks posed by Atlantic salmon aquaculture farms to wild Pacific salmon in the Discovery Islands area, as well as to the cumulative effect of any farm-related impacts on this iconic species", it claims.

However, less than a month ago, the Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) published a peer-reviewed Science Response Report on DFO's website which concluded that sea lice in farm-raised salmon do not affect sea lice levels in wild juvenile salmon in British Columbia. After learning of the decision, both the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) and the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) have claimed that it ignores the science. The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFS), for its part, has expressed "extremely disappointed by DFO Minister's dismissal of First Nations' rights and title in 'Discovery Islands' decision".

Finally, once again, the Canadian DFO seems to be trying to please all parties as it ends its statement by assuring that the Government "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".

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