One of the farms that used to operate in the Discovery Islands.

Salmon farmers and First Nations sue minister over Discovery Islands decision

Canada's Federal Court asked to reverse refusal to re-issue licences for sites


Salmon farmers Mowi, Cermaq, and Grieg Seafood have applied to Canada’s Federal Court for a judicial review of federal fisheries minister Joyce Murray’s refusal to renew licences for fish farms in the Discovery Islands area of British Columbia.

The decision to close 19 farms in the area was taken by former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan in December 2020, despite nine government science reports concluding that the farms posed minimal risk to wild Pacific salmon.

In April 2022, the federal court ruled that Jordan had breached procedural fairness and set aside her decision, and both salmon producers and pro-farming First Nations had hoped Murray would reinstate most of the farm licences.

But in a statement last month, Murray’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said that after “extensive consultations with First Nations, industry and others, and after closely considering the submissions received”, the minister had decided not to reinstate 15 licences for Atlantic salmon farms, although a licence for a small chinook salmon farm was renewed.

Mowi, Cermaq, and Grieg have now resorted to court action to reverse Murray’s decision.

'Protecting employees'

They want the court to issue an order quashing or setting aside Murray’s decision, or alternatively a declaration that the minister’s decision was unreasonable, invalid, and unlawful, or was made in a manner contrary to the principles of natural justice and fairness.

A spokesperson for Mowi Canada West said: “Mowi has an obligation to protect its employees, fish and business at large from significant harm caused by unlawful and unreasonable government decisions.

“The continued absence of procedural fairness afforded by both Ministers (Jordan and Murray) throughout the process of licensing renewals within the Discovery Islands region leaves our company no other option than to seek the court’s intervention.”

Rights not respected

Mowi’s application for a judicial review is being undertaken in parallel to an application by the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First Nations that seeks to overturn Murray’s decision on the basis that their Indigenous rights were not respected by the minister.

The Nations want the court to rule that Murray’s decision “was inconsistent with the honour of the Crown and constitutes a breach of Canada’s duty to consult and accommodate the Applicants in respect of their Aboriginal Rights and Title, contrary to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982”.

The application also asks the Court to declare that Murray’s decision was unreasonable, and procedurally unfair, and that the court should quash or set aside the decision.

Core territory

The Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai are Laich-kwil-tach speaking Nations, and the Discovery Islands, known by First Nations as the Laich-kwil-tach territory, are at the heart of their traditional territory.

Although not all First Nations are in favour of salmon farming, 17 Nations that benefit from allowing salmon producers to operate in their territories have formed the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) and claim it is their sovereign right to choose whether to allow farming to continue.

In a statement made in response to Murray’s decision last month, the FNFFS said: “The Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First Nations sent a thoughtful proposal to DFO in November to re-issue some licences in their core territories. They put forward a cautionary approach to explore how and if finfish farming could be part of their Nations’ overall vision to manage their marine space. This decision to deny all licences in their territories has sent the Nations back to the drawing board in that regard.”