The mayors of Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Gold River are asking to be included in consultation about the 18 fish farms in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bernadette Jordan, is currently consulting with seven affected First Nations about the future of those open-net fish farms.
She will ultimately conclude whether licences for these farms will be renewed at the end of the year.
Her office also announced earlier this month it is beginning the transition away from open-net farming — a federal campaign promise.
Parliamentary Secretary Terry Beech is leading the consultations with First Nations, the aquaculture industry and conservation groups on that transition.
Both of these initiatives are highly relevant to local governments, and the four mayors are asking to be included.
“We are not requesting a seat at the government to government consultation,” they wrote in a letter to Jordan on Nov. 25, “However, we believe it is imperative that all those who may be affected by the final decision be given the opportunity to have their voice heard and considered…”
They stressed the economic and cultural importance of “both the fish farming and wild salmon industries” for the region.
Fish farming has become a significant part of the North Island economy, providing jobs, and spurring ancillary markets.
Opponents to fish farms have argued that the open-water pens pose significant health risks to wild salmon negatively impacting that industry, ecology and the First Nations’ cultural and ceremonial relationship with salmon.
Port McNeill, Port Hardy and Gold River don’t touch the Discovery Islands, but they have a stake in the industry as a whole. Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom said she was shocked at how much revenue Mowi and Cermaq spend specifically in her town, based in a report they produced for the region.
Cermaq spent over $3 million with businesses, contractors and service providers Port Hardy and Port McNeill in 2019 alone.
It’s more than the jobs on the farms themselves, she said. It’s all the other stuff like net mending, food, water taxi services, fuel, accommodations, janitorial services and small contractors.
On top of that, there is a fear that if these 18 farms are denied a renewed licence to operate, it could spell doom for other farms around Vancouver Island.
“We support both the fish farming industry and the wild salmon recovery process. We strongly believe these activities can safely co-exist in the same ocean,” they wrote.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced Sept. 28 it had determined the risk of viruses to wild salmon from farmed salmon are minimal, satisfying the 19th recommendation of the Cohen Commission which called for a removal of the 18 Discovery Island farms by Sept. 30, unless the health risk was determined to be minimal.
In the same news release, it announced the consultation with the Holmalco, Klahoose, Komoks, Kwiakah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai (Cape Mudge) and Wei Wai Kum (Campbell River) First Nations about the 18 farms in their region.
Opponents cried foul to the minimal risk announcement, pointing to a separate study that concluded the risk was significant.
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