Media Release: Federal documents suggest strategic suppression of science report ahead of upcoming federal decision on Discovery Islands salmon farms

Documents suggest a disparity between DFO bureaucrats and the Minister’s office on salmon farms ahead of Discovery Islands decision

January 25, 2023

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Documents show Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) staff wanted to complete a rapid science report on salmon farm parasites (known as sea lice) before a June 30, 2022, decision on salmon farm licence renewals, but were unable to complete it in time. Then, they suppressed the finalized report for five months until January 2023 and released it right before the upcoming final decision on fish farms in the Discovery Islands. 

The rapid science report concludes no significant association between sea lice from salmon farms and infection of wild pink and chum salmon; however, there are many deficiencies with the federal report in addition to its suppression. 

Internal DFO documents acquired by Watershed Watch through Access To Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests provide the following insights related to the Minister’s upcoming decision on the fate of salmon farms in B.C.’s Discovery Islands.

  1. ATIP – Sea Lice Science Response Report

DFO staff tried to complete a federal science response report on sea lice before June 30, 2022, the date salmon farm licences expired across B.C. This type of report is meant to provide rapid science advice. It appears the science response report may have been strategically planned for this timeline to substantiate the renewal of salmon farm licences in June 2022. However, the Minister’s office released its decision on the licences on June 22, 2022, before DFO completed the sea lice report. Subsequently, the sea lice report was finalized on August 2, 2022, but curiously not publicly released until January 2023, right before the upcoming final Discovery Islands salmon farming decision to be made by the Minister of Fisheries. 

ATIP Page 74 – “We are hoping to finalize this work in June so we are facing tight timelines.”

P81 – DFO scheduled a meeting for Thursday June 24, 2022, to finalize the sea lice science response and wanted comments on the report by June 20, 2022. 

P77 – DFO Communications regarding the sea lice science response report were also planned: “And we will set up a meeting with DFO Comms to discuss a communication strategy around the response…”

P85 – A “Media Lines” document was drafted in June 2022. “The peer-reviewed science advice that will be generated through this meeting, will be posted on the CSAS website in the coming weeks.”

The Minister’s Office released her decision regarding salmon farm renewals on June 22, 2022, eclipsing the finalized sea lice science response report.

However, DFO didn’t end up publicly releasing this report until January 2023.

  1. ATIP – Discovery Islands Decision

In contrast to the science response report that reports a statistically insignificant association between farm-origin sea lice and their contribution to infestations on wild juvenile Pacific salmon, this ATIP paints a very different perspective of what the Minister’s Office thinks about salmon farming in the Discovery Islands. It includes (P53) numerous concerns raised by the Minister, sent to the major salmon farming companies in the region:

P53 – “Uncertainties related to cumulative effects” and public concern.

P53-54 – “Emergence of new research and findings” and ongoing reconsideration of risk on wild migrating salmon.

P54 – “Importance of the Discovery Island for migrating juvenile salmon”

P54 – “Depleted state of Wild pacific salmon”

P54 – “Considering the above perspectives, I am of the opinion that, as Minister, I need to consider more broad social, economic and cultural factors relating to general public concern about potential impacts of salmon aquaculture into account when making decisions under the Fisheries Act.”


Over the last few years, several instances of questionable behaviour by certain DFO bureaucrats have been widely reported, particularly around salmon farming science. “Enough is enough. An independent and rigorous investigation is needed to clean house of DFO’s bias favouring the salmon farming industry,”  said Stan Proboszcz, Watershed Watch Salmon Society. 


Stan Proboszcz, Science Advisor, Watershed Watch Salmon Society


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