The federal government says it’s phasing out fish farms along a key stretch of a wild salmon migration route in British Columbia waters within the next 18 months.
Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says 19 fish farms around the Discovery Islands near Campbell River, B.C, are being issued licences that expire on June 30, 2022, and she does not intend to renew them.
“It was a very, very difficult decision, this is not something that I took lightly, recognizing coastal communities will be impacted by this,” Jordan said in an interview.
However, the government heard a “resounding” message from seven local First Nations that they wanted the fish farms out, she 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.
The federal government is committed to working with industry on a “fair” transition to sustainable aquaculture, she said.
The licences for the 19 farms were set to expire Friday.
Nine of the farms have no fish, and Jordan said her intention is that the remaining 10 would not be permitted to add additional fish to the pens.
All farms should be free of fish by the time the licences expire, but existing fish at the site can complete their growth cycle and be harvested, Jordan said.
Environmental advocates have long argued that the open-net pen farms host parasites and diseases that can spread to already struggling wild salmon stocks and they aren’t worth the risk.
In 2012, the Cohen Commission into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye recommended phasing out fish farms in the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30, 2020.
That deadline has passed, but Jordan says there are three million fish currently on the farms and the government wants the phase-out to be fair and reasonable.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see us cull three million fish. We have food insecurity in this country, there are challenges around the whole process and we want to make sure we phase them out in a fair and reasonable manner,” Jordan said.
Phasing out net-pen fish farming in B.C. waters by 2025 was a Liberal campaign promise in the federal election.
Government figures show there are about 130 marine finfish farms in B.C. and the vast majority raise Atlantic salmon. They are concentrated in the Campbell River, Port Hardy and Tofino areas around Vancouver Island.
Jordan said the process for phasing out the remaining farms by 2025 will be different than the actions taken for the Discovery Islands, which she said has been an area of concern since the Cohen Commission report.
“That is a much larger conversation,” she said, adding that parliamentary secretary Terry Beech will begin consultations in January.
“We’re going to engage with stakeholders, with industries, with First Nations to find the best path forward.”