The tenures for 20 fish farms off the northeast end of Vancouver Island are due to expire, but aquaculture companies may keep operating for two months or more, even if the province gives them an eviction notice.
The presence of fish farms in B.C. waters, a divisive issue in the region, is coming to a head as the licenses of occupation in the Broughton Archipelago lapse on Wednesday.
A highly anticipated announcement from the province about the fate of those facilities is expected this week.
The provincial government is legally required to give fish farmers 60 days notice before giving them the boot.
And it’s likely that fish farm companies will keep operating on a month-to-month basis as consultations continue between the province and First Nations, according to Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
“It’s not an unusual situation that tenures would come up while consultation is still continuing,” he said. “Typically, what happens in those situations is they just move to a month-to-month renewal as consultation continues.”
He said the government previously allowed aquaculture tenures to expire before renewing them. This led to the current batch of simultaneous expiries, he said, adding that similar arrangements are made in other industries when consultations cause deadlines to be missed.
“Thorough consultation with First Nations and communities is critically important,” Hall said. “The province has been engaged in government-to-government discussions with First Nations and we’re looking forward to coming to that table and finding constructive solutions.”
He stressed the number of jobs at stake, saying that 6,600 people are employed in salmon farming or in related jobs in B.C. and that 20 per cent of people working directly in aquaculture are Indigenous.
Jeremy Uppenborn, a government spokesperson, told the Mirror on Monday afternoon that the province would make an announcement “in the coming days.”
He also confirmed that tenure-holders have 60 days to remove infrastructure after receiving notice, but said that “tenure-holders can request additional time” and that “extensions can be provided if those requests are considered reasonable,” such as in instances when decommissioning a site would take longer.
Meanwhile, pressure continued to mount on the B.C. government to refuse the renewal, with the Living Oceans Foundation releasing a statement on behalf of tourism operators opposed to the salmon farms in coastal waters.
In an open letter to the provincial government, 75 tourism operatorsexpressed “grave concern about the negative effects of open-net fish farming on wild stocks.”
The operators called on the province to “freeze salmon farm production levels province-wide, lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the farms, work with the federal government to transition them to land-based operations and rebuild wild salmon stocks without delay.”
Jeremy Dunn, a spokesperson for Marine Harvest – a multinational salmon farming company with Canadian operations based in Campbell River – has said that “no one’s been able to make a sustainable business” out of land-based aquaculture, which involves raising salmon in tanks.