It was a little disappointing when Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) missed the September 30 2020 deadline to get fish farms out of the Discovery Islands. The directive from Justice Bruce Cohen, in the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, had been clear.
“On September 30, 2020, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should prohibit net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands unless he or she is satisfied that such farms pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.”
Like many British Columbians, I had hoped the federal government would finally step up and take their responsibility for Pacific wild salmon seriously. Yet, although numerous studies show that fish farms pose significant risk to wild salmon, DFO used incomplete risk assessments to keep the farms in place. I can only conclude that they’re still under the influence of the fish farm industry.
Despite DFO’s failure to follow the Cohen Commission recommendations, our collective efforts to get open-net fish farms away from migrating wild salmon have made some major strides in the last couple of years, and some key opportunities lie ahead.
- Factory fish farms are currently being removed in the Broughton Archipelago according to the Broughton Agreement, a plan agreed upon by First Nations and the Province. Historically, farms in the Broughton made up roughly one third of the industry in B.C. At the end of 2020, six farm sites will have been removed. Also, the newly elected provincial NDP committed to build on the historic Broughton Agreement, so we have to remember factory farms are being removed and opportunities for removal in other areas are upon us. Schedule of fish farm removal in the Broughton Archipelago
- The last federal election was the first time most of the political parties made significant promises to remove fish farms from B.C. and for the first time, a commitment was explicitly mentioned in the Minister of Fisheries mandate letter around creating “a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.” This was a huge step forward. Sure, we know politicians aren’t the best at keeping promises, but this does move the mark significantly from them avoiding the issue. British Columbians deserve a pat on the back for keeping on their elected officials about factory fish farms. We just need to continue to keep on them and make them wear this promise.
- The business case for land-based Atlantic salmon farming is growing and new facilities are being built all over the world. In fact, British Columbia fish farmers could be left behind. Most of B.C.’s open-net farmed Atlantic salmon is exported out of the province, much of it to the USA. However, with at least eight 10,000 metric ton land-based farms being planned, built or already operating in the USA, B.C.’s antiquated open-net industry’s may lose any hope for continued market demand. And with the growth of land-based farms around the world, the ocean-based industry’s days may be numbered.
In summary, there’s plenty of hope for getting all of B.C.’s factory farms out of the water. It’s currently happening in the Broughton Archipelago. Depending on consultations between the federal government and First Nations in the Discovery Islands, those farms could still be removed. We simply need to keep the pressure on, because we’ve come a long way in this fight. Wild salmon are resilient fish, if given the chance. Getting factory fish farms out of their way is a first step in bringing them back.