Nineteen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands have been given 18 months to vacate, causing shock and uncertainty in the industry. (Photo courtesy Grieg Seafood BC)

Canada ‘stole Christmas’ says Vancouver Island’s aquaculture industry

Federal decision to phase out 19 Discovery Island fish farms has sent shivers across northern Vancouver Island

The first in a series analyzing the Discovery Island fish farm decision.

Canada’s decision to phase out 19 Discovery Island fish farms sent “shock waves” throughout north Vancouver Island, say some associated with the aquaculture industry.

While the Dec. 17, announcement by Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan was hailed as “groundbreaking” and “historic” by environmental groups, aquaculture workers are calling it a decision that “stole Christmas,” as they anticipate job loss and a ripple effect to related businesses across the North Island and Discovery Islands communities.

Jordan’s decision was based primarily on consultation with seven First Nations which have title in the Discovery Islands. A coalition of Indigenous groups and wild salmon advocates have been calling for fish farms to be removed from B.C. waters, arguing they threaten the health of wild salmon.

Industry voices claim the minister did not adequately evaluate the economic fall-out of such a decision.

Trending on social media is #coastaljobsgone where hundreds of aquaculture employees put up Dear Bernadette letters, outlining the economic, social and emotional impact of her decision.

Of the 19 farms affected, Mowi Canada West has 13 ‘at risk,’ meaning it is assumed they will be phased out under one-time, 18-month permits, lasting to June 30, 2022.

Mowi’s Discovery Island farms make up 30 per cent of its production in B.C., so this decision will affect more than just the jobs on those sites. Industry stakeholders claim that the processing plant in Port Hardy will have less to process, smolt farms will have nowhere to transfer fish as they grow, and a new fish smoking facility in Klemtu, which was planning to use fish from Discovery Island farms, is now uncertain.

Also impacted are the suppliers and contractors that work with Mowi. Campbell River grocery stores that supplied fish farm employees based off-Island are expecting a $1,000 weekly cut from their quota.

The #coastaljobsgone campaign was a Mowi initiative, to give their employees a voice.

Dean Dobrinsky, Mowi human resources, safety and communications manager, said people were asking him for answers and he had none to give.

Tiffany Macwilliam and her partner Donald Orton moved to Campbell River from Ontario to pursue a career in aquaculture almost two decades ago. A fish health technician with Mowi since 2006, Macwilliam told Black Press she knew the federal government was consulting with First Nations about Discovery Island fish farms, but she was “shocked” by the announcement.

“I can’t spend money on Christmas. I don’t know if I am going to have a job in the next five years and I certainly don’t feel safe,” she said.

Other employees who came to Vancouver Island from other parts of the country are also contemplating their next move.

READ MORE: Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

Blind Channel Resort, an off-grid establishment which also operates a fuel dock and water taxi operations on Thurlow Island, estimates the collateral damage at $1 million, according to owner Eliot Richter.

“This decision to phase out fish farms from the area is going to have a dramatic impact for us,” said Richter, who has been doing business with fish farms in the area for more than 30 years.

“We had their long-term accommodation bookings, our fuel dock services most of their large support vessels which operate in the area and four water taxis that transport employees.”

John Paul Fraser, BC Salmon Farmers’ executive director, is doubtful Jordan took the time to understand the economic consequences of her decision. He cites the lack of a plan to help the industry transition.

“No effort has been made. It is the sloppiest, most careless, thoughtless, reckless, heartless approach to a decision, and follow-up to a decision that I have ever seen,” Fraser said.

Jordan consulted with the seven area First Nations between September and December, but municipal governments and aquaculture companies were not invited to participate.

The minister said in the press release that Canada is committed to aquaculture, “but it must be developed collaboratively and include the voices of Indigenous peoples and all Canadians.”

She also told Black Press that it was an “extremely difficult decision” for her.

“I know there are people whose jobs are impacted, communities that are impacted, and that’s why I did not take this decision lightly.”

Asked whether First Nations rights were a valid reason to make the decision, Fraser said it is “always appropriate” to consult First Nations. The industry is “so connected to those important conversations,” he said, adding that 80 per cent of B.C. farmed salmon production has economic benefit agreements with local Indigenous communities.

“We don’t impugn the motive of the decision, but the fallout is going to be severe,” he said. Especially with declining forestry, mining and commercial fishing jobs, he sees aquaculture as an economic stabilizer.

READ MORE: Mayors asking to be let in on fish farm consultations

READ MORE: Vancouver Island First Nation chief tells mayors to butt out of Discovery Island fish farm consultations

READ MORE: Can B.C. salmon farmers play a bigger role in post-pandemic economic recovery?

James Walkus started the James Walkus Fishing Company out of Port Hardy, but has since transitioned the fleet to transport fish from farms to processing plants, or from smolt farms to maturing farms. His company of 25 to 30 employees has the contract to transport all of Mowi’s fish.

Walkus thought it was odd that Jordan didn’t include the many nations involved in fish farming, like Quatsino, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw (Walkus’s Nation), and the Mamalilikulla part of the Mamalilikulla-Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em First Nation. That band is divided on the topic, he said.

As a commercial fisherman and transporter for farmed fish, Walkus thinks that even if salmon returned at above average numbers every year, wild fishing alone is not enough to meet demand.

The uncertainty of future licenses from the fisheries department worries Walkus. If new locations north of Vancouver Island are approved, they could save the operation, but the uncertainty makes it difficult to plan ahead.

The industry is questioning if Canada and specifically B.C. is a good place to continue to invest, said Rocky Boschman, managing director of Grieg Seafood BC.

Grieg has one eight-member unit among the 19 Discovery Islands fish farms. The economic damage of phasing one farm will not affect them as much, said Boschman and added, “we have enough flexibility in our operations to integrate the production of that farm.

But with a $25-million hatchery expansion underway in Gold River and a $200-million project planned on north Vancouver Island, Grieg is pondering if the decision to go forward is a good idea, said Boschman.

Fisheries and Oceans has not responded to requests for an interview.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca or binny.paul@blackpress.ca


economyFish Farmsvancouverisland

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

442 Transport and Rescue Squadron from 19 Wing Comox assisted in helping an injured hiker down from the top of Mt. Benson near Nanaimo Jan. 23. Photo by 19 Wing Comox
With video: 442 Squadron assists mid-Island mountain rescue

The crew on the Buffalo hand-launched 15 flares

Local musician and artist Daisy Melville created a watercolour portrait of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from the recent American inauguration, and with help from her mom, is now selling t-shirts and more with funds going to the Comox Valley Food Bank. Image submitted
Comox Valley artist turns Sanders inauguration meme into art for good

All proceeds from the sale of shirts, sweaters and more will go to the Comox Valley Food Bank

Comox Valley medical clinics are all open, including the availability to book face-to-face care (i.e. for a physical examination) as per your clinic’s protocol (most clinics operate a “virtual care first” policy). ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
Comox Valley doctors offer answers to local COVID health care questions

Public service announcement submitted by the Comox Valley Division of Family Practice

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Artist Jim Holyoak’s installation “Quagmire.” Holyoak will be the first speaker for the Artist Talk Online Winter 2021 series. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College Artist Talk goes online for winter 2021

The series invites contemporary Canadian artists to speak about their professional practice

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Residents of the Cowichan Valley decorated more than 55 vehicles with anti-racist slogans for a car rally in support of Cowichan Tribes on Saturday, January 24. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Dozens join anti-racism car rally and virtual panel in Cowichan Valley

Provincial ministry and BC Green caucus issue joint statement detailing concerns

Jesse Savidant, 31, is wanted by the RCMP after failing to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo in December. Police warn Savidant should be considered violent. (Photo Submitted)
Warrant out for man accused of stolen property offences across Vancouver Island

Jesse Savidant did not appear for court date in Nanaimo last month, say RCMP

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Most Read