Anger as Ottawa sticks knife into BC open net salmon farming

British Columbia fish farm

Canada’s decision to ban open net fish farming in British Columbia by June 2029 has been met with dismay and anger by the industry.

As forecast by Fish Farmer Magazine earlier this week, the Ottawa government has set a five year deadline for the industry to change its methods.

Many fear the decision will cost hundreds of jobs and set back the aquaculture industry in the province for years. It could all but wipe out  much of Canada’s farmed salmon production.

The government said salmon aquaculture licences will be renewed for five years with stricter conditions, effective from July 1st 2024. After this date only marine or land based closed containment systems will be considered for new licences.

Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier has outlined a transition to closed-containment salmon farm operations and said she would allow aquaculture farms to renew their licences in a “responsible, realistic and achievable” way.

Grieg Seafood was the first company to comment and said that based on the announcement the company was suspending investment in BC  and would await a draft transition plan to assess further action.

Grieg pointed out that the decision only applied to British Columbia and had no implications for its operations in Newfoundland.

Tim Kennedy, CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said the government objective was unreasonable because there was no scientific basis to the decision.

He added: “The objective is irresponsible because it threatens 5,000 highly paid and skilled jobs in coastal British Columbia (500 of these jobs held by Indigenous people) during a time of economic stagnation.”

The alliance said over 95% of Canada’s salmon production comes from salmon farms in ocean pens in British Columbia.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association has said an analysis showed the province could lose up to  CA $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if the licences are not renewed.

First Nations groups are divided on the issue with some supporting a ban but with others calling for it to continue because they depend on it for their livelihoods.

The influential Canadian seafood website SeaWest News said the ban has triggered a fierce backlash, adding it has made a mockery of pledges with the First Nations.

SeaWest News added: “Denying the science of its fisheries experts that show the marine operations pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks and bowing to the demands of activists to get their votes, the government’s decision is being described as irresponsible, unrealistic and unreasonable.

“It also makes a mockery of the Liberals promise to deliver science-based decisions regarding the future of salmon farming in BC and walks back on the pledge of economic reconciliation with First Nations, said Indigenous community leaders.”

Mowi today described the decision as unfortunate, saying it had been made despite its efforts to pave the way for future sustainable growth and employment.

This included a thorough consultation process with several stakeholders, and strong support over the years from the local communities.

“We are disappointed by the decision, as traditional salmon farming in the sea is absolutely sustainable, and thus the decision lacks a scientific basis,” Mowi said.

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