The B.C. government has unveiled sweeping changes for the province’s fish farming industry, but they don’t come into effect until four years down the road.
Starting in June 2022, the provincial government is requiring fish farm operators to get clearance from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans that they are not adversely affecting wild salmon populations. The B.C. government will also only renew or issue permits to companies that have negotiated agreements with the First Nation in whose territory the company would operate.
“We have thousands and thousands of jobs that depend on a healthy eco-system, including wild salmon. As far as jobs related to the fish farm industry, we feel this four year transition will allow us time and allow industry to look at this situation play out,” said B.C. Agriculture minister Lana Popham. “We do have fish farm operations that do have agreements with First Nations and we may look at how those work.”
Popham said that requiring First Nations to have agreements does not mean that there is a veto in place. But B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross said that with so many jurisdictional issues around land claims and land titles, making this a requirement could be hugely detrimental.
WATCH HERE: New B.C. fish farm rules coming to effect in 2022
“There is so much uncertainty around whose rights and titles are in question here. Whose actually representing the First Nation community and who actually has to provide consent,” says Ross. “It’s such a wild west gong show right now. It’s hard to say who is going to get the consent.”
Wild salmon advocates were quick to point out that the four year lead up time is substantial and could lead to further damage to the fish stocks. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen said that the provincial government should have started right away with removing the farms from B.C.’s coastal waters.
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“We need to transition the open net fish farm industry to a land-based aquaculture industry,” said Olsen. “I think this decision and announcement is trying to be all things to all people. I think it’s an opportunity the government had to transition this industry and grow the protein people need and protect wild salmon, and I think this was very disappointing.”
Longtime wild salmon advocate Alexandra Morton was not happy with the government’s new policy.
“The B.C. NDP gov had everything they needed to protect wild salmon and respect First Nations. Instead, they put their decision on a stick, holding it like a carrot if we vote for them again,” tweeted Morton. “The NDP gave us these farms and now they preside over the collapse of wild salmon. Shame.”
The policy was announced on the same day that 20 tenures expired for fish farms in the Broughton-area. Negotiations are still underway between companies operating there, First Nations in the area and the province. For now, the permits will be renewed on a month-to-month basis.
“This is a really big step forward for the provincial government. And I acknowledge they are not fulfilling in this matter the implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Bob Chamberlin.
The fish farming industry employs about 6,600 people in British Columbia and contributes approximately $1.5 billion a year to B.C.’s economy. B.C. Salmon Farmers Association spokesperson Shawn Hall is concerned that fish farm owners were not consulted before Wednesday’s announcement.
“We were not asked to input on the decision or give any feedback on how it may affect members,” said Hall. “About 70 per cent of the salmon harvested in B.C. every year is farm raised.”