An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia's salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling "disposable and discarded." In a letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren't consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen fish farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

Vancouver Island mayors say they weren’t consulted on B.C. fish farm phase out plan

Concerns and outrage over federal decision on Discovery Islands’ open-net pen farming continue

Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia’s salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling “disposable and discarded.”

In an open letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren’t consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months.

Jordan said earlier this month the decision came after hearing unanimous opposition to the farms from local First Nations.

“You made this decision without even speaking to the industry nor locally elected officials who deeply understand B.C.’s salmon farming communities and have a direct interest in your action,” the letter says.

“Be advised that we will no longer sit on the sidelines and will be pursuing every possible option to remedy this untenable situation.”

The Discovery Islands act as a bottleneck along wild salmon migration routes and eliminating the fish farms was a key recommendation made in 2012 by the Cohen Commission on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.

However, the recommendation was contingent on the Fisheries Department finding the farms posed “more than a minimal risk of serious harm” to the health of migrating sockeye by Sept. 20, 2020.

On Sept. 28, the department said scientific assessments had found nine pathogens from farmed salmon in the islands posed a minimal risk to wild stocks. The risk of the viruses transferring from farmed to wild Fraser River stocks was less than one per cent, it said.

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said instead of allowing the farms to continue, the government announced a new consultation process that excluded the industry. He learned about the phase out 15 minutes before the government announced it, he said.

“That’s what we’re looking at here, a decision that was not well conceived, certainly ill-informed and did not in any way contemplate the consequences not just of the Campbell River economy, but really the whole economy of Vancouver Island,” Fraser said.

Workers in the industry were classified as essential under COVID-19 restrictions, only to learn before Christmas that their jobs would be lost without a say, he said.

“Now we just feel discarded, you go from thinking you’re doing something important and we can build on it to now being treated like it doesn’t matter.”

The letter says the move will eliminate about 1,500 jobs and could put the entire $1.6-billion provincial industry at risk.

It is signed by mayors in Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Gold River, as well as 11 industry representatives.

Jordan said in a statement that she plans to meet with industry and community representatives in early 2021 to discuss the transition.

“The decision to phase out fish farms in the Discovery Islands was not an easy one. It was made after many consultations and weighing many factors,” she said.

Aquaculture plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy, but the farms in the Discovery Islands are a “specific case,” she said.

The licences were renewed on an annual basis — unlike others that had been granted longer tenures — “always with the understanding that a decision regarding their permanent status would be made by December 2020,” Jordan said.

Under the plan, 19 existing farms in the Discovery Islands had their licences renewed for 18 months. The farms are not allowed to add new fish during that period, and can only grow and harvest the existing stocks until they are empty.

Phasing out net-pen fish farming in B.C. waters by 2025 was a Liberal campaign promise in the federal election.

Dean Dobrinsky, director of human resources and communications for fish farm company Mowi, said the company has about 17 farms in the area, although some straddle boundaries and the department hasn’t communicated which farms are at issue.

He said the impact of the decision goes much further than the local farms, as supply chains link them with a fish processing plant in Port Hardy and distribution networks in Surrey and beyond.

The Discovery Island farms comprise about 30 per cent of Mowi’s B.C. salmon production and the company will have to assess whether that loss means cutbacks in other areas of the business.

“When you take out that production and you don’t have an obvious option to replace it, you start looking at whether our business is viable,” he said.

The Discovery Islands are in the traditional territory of the Homalco, Klahoose, K’omoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations.

When the phase out was announced, Homalco Chief Darren Blaney said it was a relief to members of the First Nation.

Fish farms are one of several threats facing the salmon, alongside climate change, warming waters and habitat loss, he said.

“It feels like it’s been such a long time, you know, to watch our salmon dwindle and dwindle and our community get less and less food fish each year, it was hard to bear,” he said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Fish Farms

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

Just Posted

Cumberland’s council is looking at more ways to preserve its heritage not only through its museum and archives but through historic buildings. Record file photo
Cumberland considers density bonus to preserve heritage

The incentive is just one of many steps community looking at to protect older sites

Royston resident and photographer Tanja Kerr took a quick video of two eagles taking a quick dip in the water earlier this week. Video still/Tanja Kerr
Video: Eagle spotting in Royston

Photographer Tanja Kerr ensures her camera is always nearby

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Union Bay electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Angel Azul
World Community Film Festival reaches 30th year

Every February for the past three decades, World Community has hosted a… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

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

(File)
Man allegedly bites Vancouver cop during arrest for outstanding warrant

The officer was treated in hospital for the bite wounds

(File Photo)
Interior Health says COVID positivity rates in Fernie area actually 10-12%

IH say the rates are not as high as previously claimed by the region’s top doctor

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court quashes review of B.C. conservation officer who refused to euthanize bears

Bryce Casavant was dismissed from his job for choosing not to shoot the cubs in 2015

Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Dutch man, 94, facing unwanted trip home can stay in B.C. with wife of 45 years

Immigration offices cuts red tape so couple of 45 years can stay together in Victoria area

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier, health officials to discuss next steps in COVID immunization plan

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine the province expected by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production issues

Most Read