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Mowi begins fish cull and layoffs as closure decision starts to bite

Thousands of smolts euthanised at a Mowi Canada West hatchery this week. The fish are between 90-100 grams and would have gone to sea at the beginning of May. Photo: Mowi.
Thousands of smolts euthanised at a Mowi Canada West hatchery this week. The fish are between 90-100 grams and would have gone to sea at the beginning of May. Photo: Mowi.

Mowi Canada West has begun to cull almost a million juvenile salmon following December’s decision by Canadian fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan to close 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in British Columbia. It has also started to lay off employees.

The closure order gave farmers 18 months to grow and harvest fish already in the farms but prohibited any new stocking. That has left Mowi, which operates most of the farms earmarked for closure, with nowhere to put its next generation of fish.  

“The Minister did not involve us in her decisions, failed to provide any notice of her decisions and has continued to avoid any contact with us since, leaving hundreds of employees, businesses and communities stranded,” said Mowi Canada West’s director of human relations and communications Dean Dobrinski. 

Started layoffs

“As a result, this week Mowi has begun to cull 925,000 juvenile salmon in our hatchery and has started the layoff of employees.

“We are asking the Minister to reconsider the immediacy of her decisions to mitigate the catastrophic impacts. An inclusive and transparent process that will provide time to complete the production cycle, adjust our future production plans and consult with our local communities will help to minimise the real and immediate damage that her reckless decisions have created. Without this, more than 10.7 million salmon and 200 million meals will be destroyed.”

The BCSFA-commissioned report lists the impacts of the farm closures.
The BCSFA-commissioned report lists the impacts of the farm closures.

New negotiation call

The BC Salmon Farmers’ Association (BCSFA) today published a report it commissioned on the effects of the farm closures and called on the Canadian government to set aside Jordan’s decision and engage in a new negotiation process.

The report, by economics firm RIAS Inc., said there would be long-term impacts on numerous communities and more than 1,500 jobs could be lost.

These include at least 690 direct salmon farming jobs at broodstock sites, hatcheries, smolt farms, marine sites and at primary processing facilities.

Genuine reconciliation

The report said that 222 families have a member working on one of the Discovery Island farms, leading to an average loss of $79,000-plus in salary and benefits. A salmon farm worker in many Indigenous and non-Indigenous households is the primary wage earner, it said.

“Reading this report when it arrived was heart-wrenching,” said BCSFA executive director John Paul Fraser.

“We have been speaking about the impacts of this rushed, ill-considered decision since the day it was made, but this report really captured just how widespread the human and animal welfare impacts will be.

“Thankfully, we are also able to offer a reasonable, respectful way forward, one consistent with genuine reconciliation with First Nations and real engagement with all parties. The ball is now in the government’s court, and we ask them to seriously, and urgently, consider this reasonable way forward.”

With only cursory consultation with affected parties, it is unclear how the true impacts of this decision were considered as part of the government’s decision-making process.

Report author Doug Blair

Report author Doug Blair, an economist and managing director of RIAS Inc., said that in his research he found significant concern with the lack of consultation by Jordan, leading her to make a rushed decision without understanding the implications and seemingly no plan to manage impacts.

“With only cursory consultation with affected parties, it is unclear how the true impacts of this decision were considered as part of the government’s decision-making process,” Blair said. “The only way to avoid the severe damages shown in our report would be for the government to revisit this decision and engage in a genuine process of consultation with all parties aimed at finding a better way forward. As it is, left unchanged this decision will be devastating.”

Heart-breaking phone calls

Mowi’s Dobrinsky warned that if left unchanged, the closure process was going to be “brutal” on salmon farmers.

He told the Times Colonist newspaper: “I get heart-breaking phone calls from people on an almost daily basis. They ask how they will pay their mortgage, if they should be looking for another job and how will they manage in the future.”

Dobrinsky said operations outside the immediate Discovery Islands area could be impacted. For example, Mowi’s 72-employee Surrey plant which packages salmon into portions is likely to see cuts, and a new smoked salmon facility being built in Klemtu, off BC’s north coast, is expected to be hit.

First Nation ‘railroaded’ by government

Jordan made her closure decision after consultation with seven First Nations in whose traditional territories the farms are sited. The Nations backed the closure, as they believe salmon farms are responsible for spreading lice and disease to wild salmon populations, despite several studies saying farms pose only a “minimal” threat.

But it has since emerged that two of the First Nations involved are unhappy with what they regard as inadequate consultation by Jordan, and that they weren’t given a say on the timescale of the closures. Former We Wai Kai chief Brian Assu said the Nation was “railroaded” by the federal government.