The beginning of the end for the West Coast farmed salmon industry?

According to federal government data, Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of farmed salmon and is a major economic driver for coastal and rural communities on the country’s east and west coasts.

British Columbia alone accounts for over 70% of Canadian farmed salmon production.

In 2020, of the 120,427 tonnes of salmon produced in the country, 91,808 came from British Columbia, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Atlantic salmon is the most exported aquaculture product, but chinook salmon and coho salmon are other farmed species.

Photo: Derwin Parr

On the ground, that translates to approximately 7,000 jobs in coastal communities and an estimated $1.5 billion contribution to the province’s economy each year, according to the British Columbia Salmon Growers Association.

This year, British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan requested financial assistance from Ottawa for the industry, in anticipation of the closure of many salmon farms.

Intentions that don’t date from yesterday

The farmed salmon industry is going through a crucial period and is now paying the price for the directions and decisions taken in recent years.

First, the one announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2019 elections to plan by 2025 in British Columbia to replace sea pens with closed farming methods for salmon farming.

Mowi company premises near Port Hardy.

Photo: Mowi Canada West

Then, the decision announced in late 2020 to end net salmon farming in the Discovery Islands region. A decision made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada following consultations with the region’s First Nations and the Cohen Commission’s report on declining sockeye salmon populations in the Fraser River, which dates back to 2012.

At the time, the Federal Commission of Inquiry made a list of 75 recommendations to protect sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in British Columbia. One was a ban on salmon netting on the Discovery Islands until the end of September 2020.

Several salmon farms are located along the Discovery Islands salmon migratory route and could introduce or exacerbate disease in wild salmon, the Federal Commission of Inquiry report noted.

A worker at Fisheries and Oceans Canada releases a sockeye salmon into the Adams River, a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia.

Photo: Reuters/Andy Clark

Many Pacific salmon stocks are falling to historic lows. Currently, 50 Pacific salmon populations are being considered for possible listing or awaiting evaluation by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

In June 2021, Ottawa announced a National Pacific Salmon Strategy (including sockeye, pink, chum, chinook and coho salmon) to stabilize, protect and rebuild coastal salmon stocks.

Crucial next weeks for the industry

By the end of May, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans must say whether or not it intends to appeal the recent Federal Court decision in the Discovery Islands case. The court ruled on April 22 to overturn the federal government’s decision to close salmon farms in this sector and uphold the injunction that allows three farms to replenish their salmon operations.

The Discovery Islands region, near the Campbell River, accounts for nearly a quarter of the province’s salmon production, according to the British Columbia Salmon Growers Association. It is one of the main Atlantic salmon farming areas in the province.

In all, 1,500 jobs in coastal villages are expected to disappear in this region.

The Okisollo salmon farm, owned by Mowi, near the Campbell River.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward

Discovery Islands has 19 fish farms, but there are a total of 109 aquaculture farms currently licensed in British Columbia, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Of this number, 108 raise salmon. Most salmon farms are located around Vancouver Island.

The Norwegian company Mowi owns most of the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands and in the province.

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Locations of active or inactive salmon farms in British Columbia.

Photo: bcsalmonfarmers.ca

Most farms have a license that expires on June 30th. Others expire in August or September. In order to continue their activities, these operations are dependent on the green light from Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations.

Decisions on re-issuance of these licenses for any of these operations will be taken and communicated prior to expiry of existing licenses.says the federal government.

About 80 salmon farmers whose licenses expire in June are holding their breath on the west coast and awaiting Ottawa’s decision.

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