Federal court rejects review bid for renewing licences for B.C. fish farms

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Decision looming for open-net fish farming
RELATED VIDEO: Some B.C. First Nations are waiting for the federal government's transition plan, which is expected in June and aims to phase out open-net fish farming by 2025. Chief Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, talks to Jennifer Palma about what he'd like to see and how it will help preserve sacred salmon stocks – Apr 30, 2023

A federal court has rejected a bid by two First Nations and salmon farm operators to review Ottawa’s decision to not renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms in the waters off British Columbia.

The written ruling from Judge Paul Favel says former fisheries minister Joyce Murray’s February 2023 decision not to renew the licences for farms around B.C.’s Discovery Islands met the “requirement of the duty to consult” and “did not breach the operators’ rights of procedural fairness.”

Favel also says the federal decision, which cited the uncertain risks posed by fish farms to wild salmon, was “reasonable.”

The application for judicial review into the decision not to renew licences was launched by the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai nations in the areas of Quadra Island and Campbell River, some 200 km northwest of Vancouver, as well as salmon farm operators including Grieg Seafood.

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Court documents say the First Nations made the application with concerns about the federal minister’s duty to consult, while salmon farm operators applied to review procedural fairness in Murray’s decision.

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In a written statement, open-net fish farming opponent group Wild First says the Federal Court decision is a “vindication” for Murray’s move after “extensive consultation with the industry, First Nations and civil society.”

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“She took the trouble to learn about the science that her department officials have been suppressing or ignoring and made the right call,” said Wild First campaign chairman Tony Allard. “We are indebted to her for taking decisive action to protect wild salmon.”

Murray’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked her with developing the plan to shift from open-net salmon farming in B.C. by 2025, and the message was repeated in a similar letter for current Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

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Neither the fisheries department nor the minister have yet released final transition plans for 79 B.C. salmon farms.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said an analysis showed the province could lose more than 4,700 jobs and up to $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if the licences are not renewed.

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