The Canadian government has ordered that 19 open-net fish farms in British Columbia must be phased out over the next 18 months.
The farms, in the Discovery Islands, near the Campbell River, British Columbia (BC) have been the subject of controversy, and the government said that its decision had been taken in consultation with representatives of seven First Nations in the region. The indigenous leaders say that farmed salmon in open-net pens are partly responsible for the decline in wild local stocks.
Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said: “The Government of Canada remains committed to sustainable, environmentally conscious aquaculture, but it must be developed collaboratively and include the voices of Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. Today’s decision was not easy. I am committed to working with all involved parties; the First Nations, industry and the Province of British Columbia, over the next 18 months to ensure a fair and orderly transition process that phases out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands.”
The order means that no new licences will be issued after 30 June 2022; no new fish of any size may be transferred to the sites concerned; and the sites will all be free of farmed fish by that date. Nine sites out of the 19 are currently fallow, with no fish in the pens, the government said.
The British Columbian Salmon Farmers Association said: “This decision has significant implications and puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk. This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important. We have just received this decision, and will be taking some time to consider it and speak with the numerous companies and communities involved in salmon farming in the province before commenting further.”
The association also pointed out that that BC farmed salmon is BC’s biggest seafood and agri-food export with a total economic output of CAN $1.6 billion, and supports nearly 6,500 full time jobs that pay 30% higher than BC’s median income.
Mowi, which operates farms in the area, said that 2021 harvest volumes will not be impacted and the company will be developing a mitigation plan for its operations in British Columbia. The Discovery Island sites represent 30 per cent or approximately 10-12k GWT of Mowi’s total average annual harvest volumes in BC.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans concluded that farmed salmon posed a “minimal risk” to their wild counterparts, but the study did not consider sea lice as a factor.