An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. Conservative MPs are demanding to know what the federal government plans to do to help the thousands of British Columbians impacted by the immanent, forced closure of Discovery Islands salmon farms. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward photo)

Conservative MPs demand plan for B.C. salmon farm transition

Fisheries minister committed to stakeholder meetings in early 2021

Conservative MPs are demanding to know what the federal government will do to help the hundreds of British Columbians impacted by the imminent closure of Discovery Islands salmon farms.

In a letter highly critical of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to decommission the site by June of 2022, Conservative Shadow Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Richard Bragdon, and Conservative MP for North Okanagan – Shuswap Mel Arnold called for the immediate initiation of a plan to help the industry absorb the financial loss of the farms, and help the workers who depend on them.

“Coastal communities in British Columbia were blindsided by the announcement of your decision regarding licenses in the Discovery Islands,” the letter reads. “It is particularly shocking that you would make this announcement without proper consultation with local mayors, workers and their employers. This is negligent on your part.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada spent three months consulting with seven area First Nations on the matter, but several Vancouver Island mayors have stated they were not consulted at all, and estimate the decision will eliminate about 1,500 jobs, putting the entire $1.6-billion provincial industry at risk.

“Your decision has had, and will continue to have, significant negative impacts on British Columbia’s salmon farm operators, their workers and the families and communities that depend on them,” the letter reads. “The pandemic has already made this past year difficult, reminding us all of the importance of local food security and good local jobs.”

READ MORE: Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

On Dec. 17 Jordan announced DFO would no longer issue farming licences in the island group after June, 2022, giving the sector 18 months to wind down operations. The decision follows years of protest from wild salmon advocates who claim the farms act as reservoirs of pathogens and sea lice in the narrow waterways of this critical out-migration route for juvenile salmon.

In addition to the Discovery Islands decision, Jordan has been given the mandate to transition all B.C. salmon farming away from open-net pens by 2025.

Responding to the MPs’ letter, the minister’s office repeated the decision to close the farms was difficult, and the ministry will follow up with meetings in early 2021 to establish a transition plan.

“We will continue to work with the provincial government, industry, First Nations, and other key partners to create jobs and build a stronger, more sustainable aquaculture sector across the province, which includes finalizing a plan to transition away from open-net pens by 2025,” the statement reads.

“Aquaculture plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy, our collective food security, and coastal communities. The farms in the Discovery Islands are a specific case. These licenses were renewed on a yearly basis, always with the understanding that a decision regarding their permanent status would be made by December, 2020.”

In November an industry report indicated the sector was poised to begin investments worth $1.4 billion over the next 30 years estimated to generate $44 billion in economic output and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050.

Arnold and Bragdon repeated industry sentiment this growth may now be in jeopardy, and warned the Discovery Islands decision implies salmon farming, which employs about 6,500 people in B.C., has been given a notice of termination that will ripple through other industries.

“Your decision to close these operations will undoubtedly send a chill throughout the aquaculture industry and cause major employers to reconsider investing in Canada.”

READ MORE: Vancouver Island mayors say they weren’t consulted on B.C. fish farm phase out plan



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

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