DFO’s Aquaculture Management Division (AMD) just released their long-awaited “What We Heard” report summarizing the public consultations they held on transitioning open net-pen salmon farms from British Columbia by 2025 —a promise made by the federal government.

The AMD’s consultation process included an online survey and people could also submit their thoughts through email. The consultation also gathered input through meetings with First Nations and stakeholders (including Watershed Watch).   

The AMD is responsible for overseeing open net-pen salmon farms in B.C. and have been tasked with leading the transition from open net-pen salmon farms in B.C. Unfortunately, the AMD and other DFO staff have been widely criticized for having a pro-salmon farming bias, putting wild B.C. salmon at risk.

Our review of their “What We Heard” report and federal documents we uncovered through an Access-to-Information request further suggest the AMD’s transition process is biased toward a pro-salmon farming industry outcome. 

The report appears to conceal or omit key results that suggest the majority of people who submitted comments to the AMD want open net-pen salmon farms removed. For example, the front end of the report presents a broad summary of all the opinions for and against salmon farming and suggests the issue is “highly polarized,” but buried in Annex B (on pages 31-32) are the online public survey results which state: 

Overall, 70% of survey respondents supported a transition away from any marine salmon aquaculture to a sustainable land-based sector. Of those who support a transition away from marine aquaculture:
– Policy and management tools to progressively reduce or eliminate interactions between cultured and wild salmon were viewed as ineffective.

The survey results suggest 78% of survey respondents view policy and management tools to progressively reduce or eliminate interactions between cultured and wild salmon as ineffective. Despite this significant majority, we are concerned the AMD continues to back away from the federal commitment to transition from open net-pens by 2025. Instead, they are driving the transition toward minimizing interactions between farm and wild salmon—a strategy that has consistently been proven to fail. This is further substantiated in the AMD’s 2022  framework report and its vision statement: 

Advance innovation and growth in sustainable aquaculture in British Columbia that progressively minimizes or eliminates interactions between salmon open-net pens and wild salmon while also taking into account social, cultural and economic objectives.”

We believe this would likely mean a long drawn-out transition period, with open net-pen salmon farms spreading harmful viruses, parasites and bacteria to our wild salmon for decades.

Using the ATIP process, we accessed public consultation documents that included all email submissions sent to the AMD between August 11 and November 15, 2022. Although individual identities were redacted to protect privacy, the content of the emails is significant.. 

Here is what we deduced from the documents we uncovered:

  • A whopping 14,722 emails were sent to the AMD between Aug 11 – Nov 15 about transitioning salmon farms and at least 98% of those emails were in favour of not keeping open net-pen fish farms in B.C. We found zero emails in favour of keeping open net-pen fish farms. Many of these individual citizen emails were facilitated by online tools set-up by Watershed Watch and other conservation groups that allowed citizens to easily send an email to the AMD. 
  • Two First Nations provided comments (the Tla’amin First Nation and Chief Don Svanvik from ‘Namgis First Nation) but one was fully redacted. Both Nations have opposed open net-pen salmon farms in the past. 
  • One former Strathcona Regional District director for the Discovery Island and Mainland Inlets, Jim Abram, who didn’t run in the 2022 election, submitted two separate comments on the transition plan, supporting the removal of the salmon farms.
  • Some individuals criticized the AMD’s online survey as having a pro-salmon farming bias. 

There were numerous passionate and well-informed comments from British Columbians opposed to open net-pen salmon farms. Below is a selection of poignant comments.  

Some people got straight to the point:

“Get these poison pits out of West coast waters.”

“Send them and their chemical poison barges and floating junk and garbage back to Norway. We don’t want them!”

“I filled in each comment section and not a word in favour of fish farms.”

“Norwegian multi-national corporations are not owed the right to destroy B.C. coastal salmon runs for their profit.”

“Fish pens were a bad idea to begin with.”

“Fish farmers are not your constituents! We are.”

“It won’t be easy or cheap, but wild salmon hold more promise of higher profits, so tell the foreign polluters to pack up and go home.”

“Have some courage and some honour. For once as politicians, do not take the short cut”

“…I expect open-net pens to be removed by 2025 and I will not accept that measures supposed to reduce harm are adequate. There is no regulatory measure or marine-based technology in existence that can protect wild salmon from the disease, sea lice and pollution of salmon farms…”

“Legislation needs to be put in place to ensure wild salmon continue to have fish farm-free migration routes through the Discovery Islands for all time.” – Jim Abram, Director, Discovery Islands – Mainland Inlets 

And many were critical, or suspicious of the consultation process or public survey itself:

“I wonder why this is being done unless it is a stalling tactic, which the government has been very good at.”

“This is an extremely biased survey evidently designed to provide government with justification to perpetuate fish farming.”

“This survey is clearly poorly worded with the intention of garnering support to break this promise [to fully transition from open net-pen salmon farms].”

“I’ve attempted to complete the recent survey on salmon pens, but it is almost impossible not to be forced into choosing answers I dislike – so I’ve left much blank.”

Despite these submissions, the report’s conclusion states: 

“Views heard during engagement were, however, highly polarized, and facilitating a solution which meet the expectations of the broad spectrum of those who have a stake in these issues will be challenging.”

We believe this is a manipulative conclusion based on cherry-picked perspectives from the salmon farming industry and those who benefit from it. We believe the AMD is suggesting there are somewhat balanced opinions on both sides of the issue (for and against open net-pen salmon farms). However, based on our participation in the consultation, the survey results and the email submissions, the only support for open net-pen salmon farms comes from a small minority of individuals who benefit directly from the industry.  

During consultations, we suggested to the AMD that they engage businesses that depend on wild salmon and also those that are threatened by open net-pen salmon farms; for example, commercial and recreational fishing businesses and ecotourism companies. Sadly, we see no evidence of such consultations. 

We believe the AMD is using a manufactured perception of polarization as a manipulation tactic to keep open net-pens in B.C. waters. We are gravely concerned the bias in the AMD will continue to waste taxpayer money on this expensive transition process, produce an inadequate outcome and continue to put wild B.C. salmon at risk from open net-pen salmon farms.  It was recently reported in the news that the Minister of Fisheries extended the transition consultation period until the end of summer and the transition plan will be released at a later date. Please take a moment to keep the pressure up at this pivotal time and send an email today.

Please remind the federal government that you want them to remove factory fish farms from B.C.