From left: Dallas Smith from the FNFFS, fisheries minister Joyce Murray, Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation and Chief Ronnie Chickite of the We Wai Kai First Nation at a meeting last week.

Salmon producers and First Nations want more time for DFO talks over closed sites

BC sector encouraged by visits from fisheries minister but stresses importance of lost farms


Salmon farmers in British Columbia have welcomed meetings that took place last week with Canadian fisheries minister Joyce Murray, who also toured several salmon farming facilities across Vancouver Island.

But they have also voiced concerns about the short time frame set for consultations with First Nations about salmon farms in the territories of the Laich-kwil-tach First Nations (previously referred to as the Discovery Islands).

Murray’s predecessor as fisheries minister, Bernadette Jordan, ordered the closure of 19 farms in the territories in December 2020, citing concerns from First Nations in the area.

A federal court judge overturned Jordan’s decision in April this year, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) said in June that it wouldn’t reissue licences until it had consulted with First Nations communities and current licence holders in the area. A final decision is expected in January 2023.


The federal government is pursuing a policy of transitioning salmon farming in BC from open-net pens to methods that will reduce interactions with wild Pacific salmon species.

The BC Salmon Farmers’ Association (BCSFA) said that in addition to the tours last week, productive meetings were held between salmon farmers, suppliers, and Murray, in which the minister expressed her interest in co-developing a transition plan with the sector that will provide a range of metrics and tools to meet environmental objectives and protect wild salmon.

Salmon farming is continuously evolving, improving, and innovating, which can come as a surprise to those outside of the farming community

BCSFA interim executive
director Ruth Salmon

“Salmon farming is continuously evolving, improving, and innovating, which can come as a surprise to those outside of the farming community. It was a pleasure to meet with the minister and her team to not only discuss these improvements but showcase them, as she visited several farm sites and a hatchery,” said BCSFA interim executive director Ruth Salmon.

Various pathways

“It was heartening to hear that the minister is seeking to work with us to support the development of the Transition Framework. In order to successfully drive further innovation and technology adoption, there needs to be flexibility to allow for various pathways. The ecosystems in which we operate, as well as the priorities of the Nations in whose territories we operate, are diverse. We need to have a full suite of tools and options available to ensure we are meeting the expectations of the Nations, protecting wild salmon populations, and providing healthy and sustainable meals.”

The BCSFA chief added that while the salmon farming sector is fully committed to working with Murray to develop a transition plan, it has concerns about the “rushed timeline” the minister has set for this process, and particularly consultations on the farmed salmon production areas in the Laich-kwil-tach territories.

“The farms in these areas are critical to the future of the sector, as well as to those First Nations who view salmon farming as a means to socio-economic stability for their communities,” said Salmon.

Larger discussion

“Given the importance of the production areas within the Laich-kwil-tach territories, our sector stresses the importance of those First Nations to be integrated into the larger discussion of the Transition Plan, instead of being addressed as a separate region.”

Some First Nations in the Laich-kwil-tach territories / Discovery Islands were angered by minimal opportunities they had for consultation between Murray’s predecessor, Jordan, before she made her farm closures announcement.

Wei Wai Kum chief Chris Roberts told the Campbell River Mirror that First Nations were given inadequate time to have a “pragmatic dialogue”, and former We Wai Kai chief Brian Assu said his Nation and the Wei Wai Kum were “railroaded” by the federal government’s decision.

“We literally had 30 minutes between We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum to consult with the minister and out of that 30 minutes, 15 minutes of it basically was telling us she was going to announce her decision,” said Assu.

Inadequate timeline

Ahead of last week’s visits, the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) which represents First Nations that support fish farming in their territories, thanked Murray for taking up an invitation to visit salmon farms but also voiced concerns about the timescale for the formation of the Transition Framework.

“This transition engagement process between DFO, the Province of BC, and our Nations has a short timeline that we consider inadequate,” the FNFFS said in a statement published on Twitter.

“We will be addressing that to the Minister, in addition to other concerns we have with this process. One key issue that some of our Coaltion’s Chiefs will raise is the Minister’s upcoming decision whether to reissue the licences of salmon farms in the territories of the Laich-kwil-tach and Kalhoose First Nations (referred to as the Discovery Islands by DFO)."

Knowledge and stewardship

The FNFFS said that through tours led by the Nations, “we expect the Minister to acknowledge our longstanding traditional knowledge and stewardship of our waters”.

Leaders of FNFFS met with Murray in Ottawa in March to call for the re-issuance of salmon farming licences in their territories, something she did in June, just days before existing licences were due to expire.

FNFFS said there are currently 18 First Nations with some form of agreement with finfish aquaculture companies in BC, the majority of which wished to continue working with the sector and transition towards a form of finfish farming that is suitable for their territories and communities.