The Phillips Arm site in the Discovery Islands, where Mowi had hoped to transfer 600,000 fish from a nursery site until Bernadette Jordan's decision to close open net-pen sites in the region.

Canada 'importing more salmon and exporting jobs'

It's certain that BC farm closures have left a gap to be filled, says aquaculture spokesman Kennedy as value of farmed fish from Norway jumps by a third

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New figures from Norway show that the Canadian government’s closure of marine salmon farms in British Columbia over the last three years has opened the door to increased exports from other countries, says Tim Kennedy, president and chief executive of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA).

The value of farmed salmon exported by Norway to Canada jumped by 35%, or around Can $11.2 million, to Can $42.8m in the first half of 2024 compared to the same period last year, statistics from the Norwegian Seafood Council show.

That increase follows a fall in Canadian farmed salmon production from a peak of 148,000 tonnes in 2016 to 90,000 tonnes in 2023, its lowest level since 2000. The CAIA says the fall is primarily due to former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan’s 2020 decision not to renew licences for 19 farms in the Discovery Islands, BC.

Less home-grown product

Asked whether he believes that the BC farm closures have led to increased salmon imports for Canadian consumption and/or export to the US, Kennedy said: “This is absolutely certain. We know that it is increasingly difficult to find Canadian product in stores.

We estimate that the loss of approximately 60,000 tonnes of product from Canadian production equals adding about 84,000 cars to Canadian roads. And of course, the jobs are not in Canada

Tim Kennedy

“Typically, about 30% of Canadian production stays in Canada but now with much lower production this quantity cannot meet consumer demands. This is the opposite of what Canadian consumers and retailers desire based on polling and retail data as they say they want more Canadian product. Norwegian and Chilean (and increasingly Scottish and Faroes) product is in Canadian stores.”

Kennedy continued: “Fresh salmon continues to be the top seafood choice of Canadians. If they can’t get it from Canada, they will purchase foreign-sourced salmon. However, the carbon footprint is much larger – we estimate that the loss of approximately 60,000 tonnes of product from Canadian production equals adding about 84,000 cars to Canadian roads. And of course, the jobs are not in Canada, but we are supporting other national economies.”

Discovery Islands

Jordan announced her decision to close the Discovery Islands farms on December 17, 2020 and gave the farms until June 2022 to finish growing existing fish. She placed an immediate ban on transfers of smolts to the sites.

One of the affected farming companies, Mowi, won an injunction against the transfer ban, but that was sidestepped by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which changed the time limit for transfer applications.

In April 2022, it was announced that Federal Court judge Elizabeth Heneghan had ruled that Jordan breached procedural fairness when she announced the closures via a press release, and also failed to provide reasons for her decision. The judge ordered Jordan’s decision to be reversed, but the farms remain closed.

In mid-June this year, the Canadian government said that open net-pen salmon farming will be banned in BC from June 30, 2029, as part of what it said was a responsible, realistic, and achievable plan to transition the sector to closed containment.

Remaining open net-pen farms in BC were granted one-off five-year licence renewals from July 1, 2024.