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DFO ‘culturally unable’ to look after aquaculture

Fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced the closure of 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands last month. Photo: Halifax Today.
Fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced the closure of 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands last month. Photo: Halifax Today.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) has called on the country’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to create a new department to champion the sector in the wake of fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan’s decision to close 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in British Columbia.

In an open letter to Trudeau, the CAIA criticised a “superficial” consultation process carried out before Jordan took her decision in December and argued that her Department of Fisheries and Oceans was “structurally and culturally unable” to champion fish farming development.

“Without a significant new commitment to change in the department, another department must be given the responsibility to champion our sector,” said the letter, signed by CAIA chair Jennifer Woodland and president and chief executive Tim Kennedy.

No positives

The CAIA said salmon farming was the anchor from which the total sector – shellfish, seaweeds, new marine and land-based technologies – can develop and thrive, but added: “To date, and despite good-faith constructive efforts by our sector, your government has not delivered one positive structural or program change for the aquaculture sector that supports growth.

“Minister Jordan’s decision on the Discovery Islands, one week before the holidays, at the end of an unprecedented year of emotional and social upheaval and stress, is a terrible blow to the sector’s positive aspirations. The stress for our federally and provincially recognised ‘essential’ employees, already at a high with Covid-19, has been severely exacerbated by this decision. We are deeply concerned for the present mental and physical health of our British Columbia employees, their families and their futures.”

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers’ Association (BCSFA) has warned that the decision to close the farms in the Discovery Islands threatens 1,500 jobs on Vancouver Island, and puts the future of Canada’s entire salmon farming sector into question.

Not an easy decision

Some First Nations in the area oppose salmon farming and blame the industry for declining populations of wild Pacific salmon species, despite nine separate studies that concluded the industry posed only a minimal risk.

When the closures were announced, Jordan stated: “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 closure order has sparked a fierce response from Vancouver Islanders working in the industry, with many taking to social media to express their frustration and anger, using the hashtag #coastaljobsgone.

Rachel Blaney: Reported to have celebrated closure decision.
Rachel Blaney: Reported to have celebrated closure decision.

Economic development

The local MP, Rachel Blaney, was reported to have had a celebratory dinner with her husband, Chief Darren Blaney of the Honolco First Nation, when Jordan’s decision was announced, and posted the DFO press release on Facebook with the comment: “Today we received the decision. I look forward to working together toward the next steps.”

However, she has since written to Jordan asking for “an urgent regional economic development summit” to deal with the economic and employment repercussions of the minister’s decision, although she still appears to blame salmon farming for problems with wild fish.

In her letter to Jordan, Blaney writes: “We acknowledge the nation-to-nation decision and understand that for the protection of wild salmon we must continue to work together to do everything we can to protect and rebuild critical wild salmon stocks

“However, North Island communities have been particularly hard hit this past year and it is difficult to imagine how workers, families and communities will get through without urgent federal assistance to mitigate the impact of this decision. We need a coordinated approach to this pressing economic challenge.”

John Paul Fraser:
John Paul Fraser: "We have an industry right now that's excellent."

‘Investment is drying up’

John Paul Fraser, executive director for the BCSFA, told BIV business website: “I’m not interested in talking, at this point, about federal assistance and economic transition, when we have an industry right now that’s excellent, that operates at world-class standards.”

He told BIV that if any transition plan the federal government had in mind was to involve the industry – such as transitioning from open-net to hybrid land-ocean systems, for example – Jordan’s decision has now precluded that from happening.

“Companies have already suspended new investment. Capital investment is drying up. Investment in new technology, which is very expensive, is drying up,” he said.

“For a government that says it’s interested in advancing new technology, all it’s doing is creating an environment that makes those kinds of investments impossible to attract.”