Young professionals in B.C.’s salmon farming sector are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demonstrate his government’s support of the industry.
The BC Salmon Farmers Association Youth Council issued an open letter to Trudeau Feb. 8, saying his government has placed their future in jeopardy and failed coastal communities by ignoring government scientists and bowing to political pressure in its decision to shut down Discovery Islands farms.
“We are scientists, engineers, environmentalists, farmers, veterinarians, certification specialists and much more. We are the engine of salmon aquaculture in rural coastal communities,” the letter reads. “If we believed our industry was harming wild salmon and the surrounding marine environment, we would not be working in it. Science is our foundation, and your own government’s nine years of independent peer-reviewed research suggests farmed and wild salmon can co-exist safely.”
The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in Discovery Islands by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks.
Recent Fisheries and Oceans Canada risk assessments found the impacts were below that critical threshold.
Nonetheless, following three months of consultations with seven area First Nations Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan gave the 19 farms 18 months to wind down their operations by June of 2022.
The decision is having a profound impact on young people who once anticipated long, positive careers in salmon aquaculture.
“Two-thirds of the people working in BC salmon farming are under 35 years old. At a time when securing and protecting the future of young people in Canada is so critical, we find ourselves reeling, stressed, anxious and exhausted – with our future in jeopardy,” the letter reads.
A number of factors are blamed for B.C.’s dwindling salmon populations, including over-fishing, climate change, warming waters, and increased predation. Open-net pens have the potential to act as reservoirs for naturally occurring sea lice and pathogens that transfer to out-migrating juvenile fish, and salmon farm opponents believe this is leading cause of the decline.
But the youth council argues the sector can be a strong contributor to the objectives of the federal government’s Blue Economy Strategy, which aims to position the country as a global leader in ocean-based economies that create good middle-class jobs while championing healthier oceans and sustainable ocean industries.
“Unfortunately, your actions have eroded the trust we once placed in you to seize British Columbia’s Blue Economy potential,” the youth council wrote.
Jordan launched public consultations on the strategy earlier this week, telling Black Press Media she expects salmon aquaculture to play a big role, but it will not include open-net pens like those in the Discovery Islands. Options are on the table for contained and semi-contained systems, deep ocean pens and land-based systems.
“I’m not going to prejudge the process by saying ‘this is what it has to be,’ because I don’t know,” Jordan said. “We want to hear from people on what they think is the best path forward.”
Parliamentary Secretary Terry Beech is leading consultations with the industry on a transition plan.