BC salmon farmers call on federal government to reconsider closure order

Salmon farms seek reprieve

As layoffs begin at Vancouver Island fish farms, B.C. salmon farmers are calling on the federal government to reconsider ordering 19 farms off the Discovery Islands to be shut down by summer 2022.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association is calling on the government to set aside its decision and instead embark on a new in-depth consultation with everyone involved in the sector.

It seeks a process “consistent with genuine reconciliation with First Nations and real engagement with all parties. The ball is now in the government’s court, and we ask them to seriously, and urgently, consider this reasonable way forward,” John Paul Fraser, executive director of the association, said Monday.

Beginning today, fish farm company Mowi Canada West will be culling young salmon because it is now banned from placing them in marine net pens in that area and there’s no room in their operations elsewhere.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan announced Dec. 17 that effective immediately no new fish could go into Discovery Island farms.

All 19 farms must be closed by June 30, 2022. The farms, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, are run by Mowi, Cermaq Canada and Greig Seafood.

The goal is to protect wild salmon migrating through that area. Fish farm opponents have for decades raised alarms about open-net pens, fearing they will spread diseases and parasites to wild salmon.

Fish farm opponents cheered Jordan’s decision. Critics have urged industry to move over to other technology, such as closed pens.

B.C. wild salmon are facing challenges such as climate change, a warm-water offshore blob and a landslide which impeded returns on the Fraser River. Last year’s Fraser River sockeye run was the lowest in history.

Jordan’s decision means Discovery Islands farms are allowed to only raise fish already in pens. Once those fish are harvested, the pen shuts down and workers are not needed.

More than 10.7 million young salmon and eggs may be destroyed because of the lost capacity in the Discovery Islands, said economics consultant Rias Inc. in a report commissioned by the association.

Closing Discovery Island farms has the potential to put up to 1,500 jobs at risk, Rias said.

This includes at least 690 direct salmon farming jobs, working at broodstock farms, hatcheries, smelt farms, ocean farms and at primary processing facilities, the report said.

The Rias report said that 222 families have a member working on one of the Discovery Island farms, leading to an average loss of $79,000-plus in salary and benefits.

“It is going to be brutal,” Dean Dobrinsky, director of human relations and communications for Mowi.

“Our employees are going through a stretch of disbelief and fear,” Dobrinsky said. “Now they’ve had their life ripped out from them."

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