It seems everyone has an opinion on aquaculture.
That includes the Liberal federal government, which made a campaign promise during the 2019 federal election that if elected it would remove salmon farms from B.C. waters by 2025.
The first manifestation of that promise happened in December, when, after consultations with area First Nations, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River would be shut down in 18 months.
Aquaculture businesses and workers are now in the lurch wondering just what the future will hold for the industry.
The North Island Gazette interviewed John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, about the political climate surrounding this decision.
What are your thoughts on Tahsis mayor Martin Davis saying salmon farms need to be moved on land?
From what I understand, Tahsis has always had a closed containment or land-based policy position for some time. Some of the problem I had with it was the reporting. They said Tahsis ‘broke away’ from the other communities, but I don’t really think they were ever a part of those communities in the first place.
We’re working very closely with mayors of the North Island, Port Hardy, Sayward, Port McNeill, Gold River and Campbell River, and that’s going to continue. The mayors were very clear in the letter we drafted with them that the Discovery Islands decision will have a very real significant economic impact that the government didn’t adequately consider.
Would moving fish farms on land cost Vancouver Island the aquaculture industry entirely?
This government continues to create so much uncertainty by making decisions without plans, without information, and are creating the wrong kind of environment to even consider transitioning to land-based, or any other new forms of aquaculture. It’s almost as if people haven’t realized that land-based aquaculture has its own challenges that have yet to be overcome, and would need to be, if it was ever going to become a serious part of aquaculture.
What the government is saying makes no sense, because what we are currently doing is working. It is meeting, or meets, all of the environmental requirements, and we are successfully producing healthy food that is in demand all over the world.
What does ‘minimal risk’ mean to the BC Salmon Farmers Association?
Independent scientific analysis over nine years concluded the salmon farms presence in the Discovery Islands posed no more than ‘minimal risk’ to wild salmon. The science met the standards that the Cohen Commission demanded, but ultimately that ended up not being good enough.
What do you say to the activists who disagree with DFO’s minimal risk assessment?
There is no amount of science, and there is no scientific process, that will satisfy certain people, and we all know who they are.
Do you feel salmon farms operating in traditional territories are a part of Indigenous reconciliation?
Our companies must work hand-in-hand with local Indigenous communities. There are lots of examples of where that is working and working really well. It’s our hope that more of that can happen…
If you look at the decision made in the Broughton Archipelago to relocate, move, or close the farms, that decision didn’t get made with an arbitrary time frame, because everyone understood the best way to do it is to set an objective. It may be difficult and it may be challenging, but you bring everyone together with the purpose of understanding how to get there… that is reconciliation. Reconciliation is where you bring people together to resolve past grievances with a clear desire to emerge more united than when you enter the process.
What kind of impacts will be felt from this decision?
Without the trajectory of this decision (Discovery Islands) being altered so it can be more carefully and properly implemented or executed, there will be a significant amount of job loss and a significant amount of animal loss… We’re looking at 1,500 hundred families who work in the Discovery Islands whose careers and livelihoods are either directly or indirectly impacted. It’s not just the farms, it’s the people on the farms that are on the line here.
This is quite possibly the most impactful, careless, reckless, thoughtless, decision that I have ever seen. The federal government has provided zero plans for how this impact is to be mitigated. They have not reached out, and they do not care. These aren’t communities the Government of Canada thinks will help them win an election.
Could all salmon farms be moved on land by 2025?
I want to make this abundantly clear, we would never talk bad about land-based aquaculture, we know a thing or two about how it is done, where it can be done and when it can be done… The problem is you have government who doesn’t know any of those three things saying what can happen, as opposed to the people who are actually doing it. They are putting promises ahead of policy…
You’re not going to see the entire industry picked up from the ocean and moved on land in five years. It is not going to happen. People need to stop thinking that it can. We can work towards alternate forms of ocean-based production to build and grow aquaculture…
Ultimately how the sector evolves is going to be between the Nations and the companies.