Major B.C. salmon farms seek court intervention in Discovery Islands ban

·4 min read

Two major B.C. salmon farmers are asking for court intervention on the forced closure of Discovery Islands farms.

On Jan. 18 Mowi Canada and Cermaq Canada applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the waters off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island by June 30, 2022.

Mowi owns 15 farms in the area, representing about 30 per cent of the company’s B.C. production. Cermaq’s stake represents about 20 per cent of their operations.

“The decisions and related timelines and lack of precision are unreasonable, and threaten the viability of the Mowi’s entire operations in British Columbia,” a statement from Mowi Canada reads.

Judicial reviews allow private entities to challenge government decisions to ensure they adhere to existing laws.

The companies are asking the courts to find Jordan’s decision unreasonable and set it aside, saying the loss of business threatens to put the them at risk of closure.

The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in the narrow waterways of the Discovery Islands by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) risk assessments last year found the impacts were below that critical threshold, but public pressure resulted in three months of consultation with area First Nations and Jordan’s subsequent decision.

On Dec. 17 she gave the farms 18 months to allow time for the salmon to grow-out and be harvested, after which time no licences would again be renewed or issued in the Discovery Islands.

During the transition farmers are also be prohibited from adding new fish to the pens.

“Mowi is scheduled to stock several farms in early 2021, but under the minister’s decisions is currently unable to do so. If the decision stands Mowi will have to cull several million young fish currently in hatcheries, as it has no alternative locations to place those fish,” Mowi Canada said, adding the site closures will have far-reaching impacts on suppliers and service providers in the area.

Cermaq Canada issued a similar statement on the timeline of the decision and the prohibition to stock the pens with existing young fish.

“Cermaq believes that time for engagement should be provided, which means allowing the stocking of the sites in this interim period,” the company said.

“Our judicial review focuses only on the conduct of DFO and the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. We respect the opinions and the rights of the First Nations in the Discovery Islands region … Cermaq’s goal is to allow time for engagement with the local First Nations to examine opportunities to achieve mutually beneficial agreements.”

Black Press Media has reached out to B.C.’s other major producer, Grieg Seafood, but it’s unclear if they are seeking similar court action.

Minister Jordan’s office said she is aware of the judicial review requests, but declined to comment further while the mater is before the courts.

The minister’s office reaffirmed in January it is launching consultations to develop a transition plan for businesses and communities impacted by the loss, but the decision in the Discovery Islands should not have come as a surprise.

“Aquaculture plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy, our collective food security, and coastal communities. The farms in the Discovery Islands are a specific case,” a statement read. “These licenses were renewed on a yearly basis, always with the understanding that a decision regarding their permanent status would be made by December, 2020.”

Jordan has been given the mandate to also develop a plan by 2025 to transition all open-net pens out of B.C. waters.

According to the BCSFA the industry as a whole supports about 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province. Farmed salmon has a landed value of $772.5 million annually and is B.C.’s leading food export worth $562 million in 2019.

Prior to the Discovery Islands Decision, a report commissioned by the BCSFA indicated the industry was poised to begin investments worth $1.4 billion over the next 30 years that could generate $44 billion in economic output and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050. Stakeholders now say the uncertainty with the government’s policy approach has put those investments into question.

Quinn Bender, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View