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Mowi and Cermaq take Canadian government to court over farm closures

Mowi's Phillips Arm farm in British Columbia. The company doesn't know how many of its farms may face closure because the DFO hasn't provided a precise listing of affected farms. Photo: Mowi.
Mowi's Phillips Arm farm in British Columbia. The company doesn't know how many of its farms may face closure because the DFO hasn't provided a precise listing of affected farms. Photo: Mowi.

Mowi Canada West and Cermaq have each applied for a judicial review of the Canadian government’s decisions to close 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in British Columbia by June 2022.

Fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced the decisions on December 17 after consulting with the seven First Nations in whose territories the farms are sited. Neither fish farmers nor other local communities that rely on the industry were consulted.

Mowi said it is asking the courts to find the decisions unreasonable and to set them aside.

Lack of precision

“These decisions, made without consultation of the industry, prohibit the issuance of new or replacement aquaculture licences for aquaculture sites and prohibit any fish being transferred into aquaculture sites within the Discovery Islands area,” stated Mowi.

“Approximately 13-15 Mowi farms are impacted. The exact number is not known as the Minister has not provided a precise listing of the affected farms, nor any details or plans beyond her initial announcement.

“The decisions and related timelines and lack of precision are unreasonable and threaten the viability of all Mowi’s operations in British Columbia.”

Job losses

The company said some of the consequences of Jordan’s decisions, if they stand, include:

  • Mowi shutting almost a third of its business over the next 12 months will result in significant direct financial losses.
  • The company’s entire BC operations being put at risk of closure.
  • Mowi having to cull several million young fish currently in hatcheries, as it has no alternative locations to place those fish.
  • Employees working on farms, and in hatcheries, processing facilities, and supporting departments losing their jobs.
  • Mowi being forced to terminate or reduce contracts with local Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses supplying goods and services supporting the farms, hatcheries, and processing facilities.
  • Mowi having to cease all operations at its impacted farms by early January 2022 to ensure the decommissioning process can be completed within the current licence period.
David Kiemele: Wants time to talk to First Nations.
David Kiemele: Wants time to talk to First Nations.

Buying time

Cermaq, meanwhile, has stressed that its argument is with Jordan’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and not the First Nations in the Discovery Islands.

“The judicial review brought by Cermaq is meant to allow time for Cermaq to engage with these local First Nations regarding our operations in their territories,” stated managing director David Kiemele. “The goal of such engagement will be for Cermaq to work with the local First Nations to examine opportunities to achieve agreements, allowing for our continued operations into the future under the oversight of these Nations.

“Part of the DFO decision was that Cermaq would not be able to stock our sites in the Discovery Islands region with fish, although these sites would be licensed until 2022. This decision will have immediate and detrimental effects. Before those effects are felt by Cermaq, its employees, suppliers, and customers, Cermaq believes that time for engagement should be provided, which means allowing the stocking of the sites in this interim period.

Planning cycle

“Salmon farming, like all farming, requires a planning cycle, in our case this is 60 months (five years) to ensure the proper fallowing and rotation of farm sites, coordinated area-based management, and the breeding and rearing of the next generation of fish.

“It is important to note that this decision will have far reaching impacts on our overall operations. Although it may only seem to be a closure of three farms, this represents about 20% of Cermaq Canada’s overall production. This will have immediate implications for our hatcheries, our other farms, processing facilities, our customers, and - most importantly - for our employees and the communities in which we operate.

Mutually beneficial agreements

“At the time of DFO’s announcement, plans were well under way for the stocking of two of Cermaq’s three farm sites in the Discovery Islands region later this spring, representing a measurable investment by Cermaq. This means that the significant number of fish that were destined for these two sites are in limbo as these fish no longer have a farm location in which to complete their grow out. This has put our operations in disarray, significant value at risk, and left us with little option other than to initiate this judicial review.

“Again, Cermaq’s goal is to allow time for engagement with the local First Nations to examine opportunities to achieve mutually beneficial agreements.”