Temporary reprieve for open-net salmon farms in BC's Discovery Islands

Reprieve for fish farms

Mowi Canada has won a temporary reprieve from an order preventing the company from stocking two open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

A Federal Court judge granted an injunction that Mowi Canada and three other salmon farming companies sought against an order by federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan, who refused transfer licences and ordered all salmon farms out of the Discovery Islands by the end of June 2022.

Jordan’s order applies to about 30% of Mowi Canada’s operation in B.C., and would have a financial impact of close to $200 million. It also affects the operations of a smaller operator, Saltstream, which has a single salmon farm in the area.

“While aquaculture in the Discovery Islands may pose a risk to wild salmon populations generally, it has not been established that the risk from allowing the transfer of fish into three sites is great enough to weigh against granting the injunction,” Justice Peter George Pamel says in his decision.

“The harm to Mowi and Saltstream, as well as their employees, their families and other businesses in the community, in particular First Nations businesses, will be real and substantial if the injunction is not granted.”

“Our Federal Court application for judicial review of the minister’s Dec. 17, 2020, order to not renew our licenses for Hardwicke, Philips Arm, and other sites in the Discovery Islands area continues,” Diane Morrison, Mowi Canada’s managing director, said in a statement.

“But for now we do not have to cull any more fish and dozens of jobs are secure for at least a while longer.”

In December, Jordan refused to approve transfer licences needed to move salmon from nursery sites to other open-net farm sites in the Discovery Islands. She ordered all open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands to be off the water by the end of June 2022.

Mowi is part of a judicial review appealing that order. In the meantime, Mowi Canada and three other companies sought an injunction against Jordan’s order, which meant that juvenile salmon could not be transferred from nurseries to other open-net farm sites in the Discovery Islands to be able to be grown to maturity.

Farmed salmon are grown in freshwater hatcheries, then transferred to open-net nurseries after about one year, and then are often transferred again to other open-net pen sites until they reach harvest size.

Each transfer requires a federal licence.

Jordan’s refusal to approve transfer licences left younger salmon in various stages of growth with nowhere to go. Mowi has already had to euthanize more than 900,000 juvenile salmon as a result of the order. Another 1.1 million would have had to be euthanized, had the injunction not been granted, said Dean Dobrinsky, Mowi Canada’s director of human resources and communications.

“In effect, the minster has to turn back the clock to before Dec. 17,” Dobrinsky said.

Dobrinsky said the injunction means Mowi should be able to stock two fish farms — Phillips Arm and Hardwicke. It doesn’t mean the Discovery Island salmon farms can continue past 2022, however, unless Mowi Canada also wins a judicial review against that decision.

“It allows us to grow out the salmon at the two sites in the Discovery Islands,” Dobrinksy said.

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