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Mowi to cull 3 million fish after minister changes rules

The Phillips Arm site in the Discovery Islands, where Mowi had hoped to transfer 600,000 fish from a nursery site. Photo: Mowi.
The Phillips Arm site in the Discovery Islands, where Mowi had hoped to transfer 600,000 fish from a nursery site. Photo: Mowi.

Mowi is to cull 3 million young salmon at its hatcheries in British Columbia as a direct result of a sudden change by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to double the time to receive a transfer permit from 20 days to 40.

But it has managed for find a new home for 600,000 post-smolts with a current average weight of 700g which are in its Port Elizabeth nursery site in the Broughton Archipelago. That site is earmarked for closure by the end of June and the fish would have been culled if no transfer site had been found.

Mowi Canada West is now trying to find another site to allow grow-out of a further 600,000 post-smolts at another Broughton nursery site.

Transfer ban

Salmon farms are being phased out in the Broughton over several years under an agreement between First Nations, the BC government and Mowi Canada West.

Mowi had always planned to move the fish to grow-out sites in the Discovery Islands (DI) to allow the nursery sites to close with the agreed timescale, but a decision in December by fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan to close DI sites within 18 months and ban all new transfers left Mowi with nowhere to put its fish. Jordan’s decision has already led to Mowi culling 925,000 hatchery fish.

A Federal Court judge ordered Jordan to re-think the transfer ban last month, but the minister moved the goalposts by doubling the time the DFO was allowed to take to issue a transfer permit. Given the time taken to equip a site and move fish, that took the likely date of issue of any transfer licence past Mowi’s practical deadline.

Doubled response time

In a statement on its website, Mowi said that on April 16 it submitted an application for a transfer licence (using the 20-day service standard) to move 600,000 juvenile salmon to its Phillips Arm farm in DI. 

This would have given Mowi adequate time to safely prepare the site and transfer the fish. The move was agreed to by the Kwiakah First Nation, in whose traditional territory the farm is sited, in a prior agreement.  

On April 27, DFO notified Mowi that it was doubling the time to approve a transfer permit from 20 to 40 days.

Two days later Mowi responded to this notification and emphasised the need to for a timely decision by DFO by May 4, “in order to meet our operational requirements…Mowi requires sufficient notice to safely mobilise employees, contractors and equipment to site. In the normal course, it takes 90 days to rig (i.e. prepare) a site to receive fish and the cost of both rigging and derigging are significant ($600,000-$680,000 per site per process)”.

Minister stays silent

“While the Minister has stated that her policy only impacts the Discovery Islands, doubling the approval time places Mowi Canada West at risk of violating our agreement with First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago to have fish removed from our Port Elizabeth farm by the end of June 2021.  To date, we have received no response from the Minister,” stated Mowi on its website.

“In our ongoing efforts to mitigate the damage from Minister Jordan’s decision to end salmon farming in the Discovery Islands with no notice, Mowi Canada West continues to prioritise saving the fish already at sea. This recent decision, again with no warning, has forced us to take the following steps:

  • Through the good graces of three Broughton First Nations, Mowi Canada West has been provided the opportunity to move fish (est. 600,000) already at sea at our Port Elizabeth farm into another Broughton salmon farm.
  • We will continue to try to find a transfer home for the additional est. 600,000 fish already at sea that were destined for farms in the Discovery Islands.
  • We will begin culling more than 3,000,000 salmon in our hatcheries in the coming weeks. This is the equivalent of 61,000,000 million meals lost.”

Untenable situations

Mowi Canada West managing director Diane Morrison said: “Minister Jordan continues to put us in untenable situations and we don’t understand why. She has now twice substantively changed the requirements without any input, consultation or discussion with this sector.”

Mowi Canada West press spokesperson Dean Dobrinsky said: “It is shocking that a Federal Minister can so cavalierly disregard not only the people who rely on this sector but also the Federal Court of Canada and the administration of regulatory fairness that governs all resource sectors across Canada.”

Mowi Canada West and other affected companies in British Columbia have applied for a judicial review of the decisions made by Jordan, regarding licences for salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area. Mowi is asking the courts to find the decisions unreasonable and to set them aside.