An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

‘We will no longer sit on the sidelines,’ says North Island mayors on fish farm phase out plan

Concerns and outrage over federal decision on Discovery Islands’ open-net pen farming continue

Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia’s salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling “disposable and discarded.”

In an open letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren’t consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months.

Jordan said earlier this month the decision came after hearing unanimous opposition to the farms from local First Nations.

“You made this decision without even speaking to the industry nor locally elected officials who deeply understand B.C.’s salmon farming communities and have a direct interest in your action,” the letter says.

“Be advised that we will no longer sit on the sidelines and will be pursuing every possible option to remedy this untenable situation.”

ALSO READ: Federal politicians were asked for Vancouver Island recovery plan after salmon farming decision

The Discovery Islands act as a bottleneck along wild salmon migration routes and eliminating the fish farms was a key recommendation made in 2012 by the Cohen Commission on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.

However, the recommendation was contingent on the Fisheries Department finding the farms posed “more than a minimal risk of serious harm” to the health of migrating sockeye by Sept. 20, 2020.

On Sept. 28, the department said scientific assessments had found nine pathogens from farmed salmon in the islands posed a minimal risk to wild stocks. The risk of the viruses transferring from farmed to wild Fraser River stocks was less than one per cent, it said.

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said instead of allowing the farms to continue, the government announced a new consultation process that excluded the industry. He learned about the phase out 15 minutes before the government announced it, he said.

“That’s what we’re looking at here, a decision that was not well conceived, certainly ill-informed and did not in any way contemplate the consequences not just of the Campbell River economy, but really the whole economy of Vancouver Island,” Fraser said.

Workers in the industry were classified as essential under COVID-19 restrictions, only to learn before Christmas that their jobs would be lost without a say, he said.

“Now we just feel discarded, you go from thinking you’re doing something important and we can build on it to now being treated like it doesn’t matter.”

The letter says the move will eliminate about 1,500 jobs and could put the entire $1.6-billion provincial industry at risk.

It is signed by mayors in Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Gold River, as well as 11 industry representatives.

Jordan said in a statement that she plans to meet with industry and community representatives in early 2021 to discuss the transition.

“The decision to phase out fish farms in the Discovery Islands was not an easy one. It was made after many consultations and weighing many factors,” she said.

Aquaculture plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy, but the farms in the Discovery Islands are a “specific case,” she said.

The licences were renewed on an annual basis — unlike others that had been granted longer tenures — “always with the understanding that a decision regarding their permanent status would be made by December 2020,” Jordan said.

Under the plan, 19 existing farms in the Discovery Islands had their licences renewed for 18 months. The farms are not allowed to add new fish during that period, and can only grow and harvest the existing stocks until they are empty.

Phasing out net-pen fish farming in B.C. waters by 2025 was a Liberal campaign promise in the federal election.

Dean Dobrinsky, director of human resources and communications for fish farm company Mowi, said the company has about 17 farms in the area, although some straddle boundaries and the department hasn’t communicated which farms are at issue.

He said the impact of the decision goes much further than the local farms, as supply chains link them with a fish processing plant in Port Hardy and distribution networks in Surrey and beyond.

The Discovery Island farms comprise about 30 per cent of Mowi’s B.C. salmon production and the company will have to assess whether that loss means cutbacks in other areas of the business.

“When you take out that production and you don’t have an obvious option to replace it, you start looking at whether our business is viable,” he said.

The Discovery Islands are in the traditional territory of the Homalco, Klahoose, K’omoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations.

When the phase out was announced, Homalco Chief Darren Blaney said it was a relief to members of the First Nation.

Fish farms are one of several threats facing the salmon, alongside climate change, warming waters and habitat loss, he said.

“It feels like it’s been such a long time, you know, to watch our salmon dwindle and dwindle and our community get less and less food fish each year, it was hard to bear,” he said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Fish Farms

Just Posted

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) were deployed to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device on Jan. 20. (Google/Screencap)
UPDATED: Bomb disposal unit still determining nature of suspicious device found on Salt Spring Island

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

The Rogers Creek Trail main trailhead is located on the Redford Extension in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Hiker rescued after cold few hours in the bush outside Port Alberni

Alberni Valley Rescue Squad said they receive frequent calls for people lost on this trail

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

The Victoria Fire Department extinguished a 15 foot tent fire in the 500-block of Ellice Street Jan. 19. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police investigating after 15-foot flames engulf tent

Flames damage nearby business in 500-block of Ellice Street

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Hecht Beach cabin in ashes. (Submitted)
Beloved secret cabin lost to fire on the North Island’s west coast

The trappers cabin was shared with locals, but kept mostly secret

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Most Read