Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Salmon Farm Transition: to what, when and how?

September 20, 2023

Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent cabinet shuffle gave us a new Fisheries Minister: Diane Lebouthillier is the seventeenth person to hold that office since our campaign to reform salmon farming began. Mme. Lebouthillier hails from the Gaspé; her Parliamentary Secretary, Mike Kelloway, is from Cape Breton. Once again, we face a big job of education! The best interpretation we can come up with for these appointments is that the Prime Minister wanted to ensure that his Fisheries Minister could deliver on the mandate to remove B.C. salmon farms without suffering for it in local polls.  That is faint recompense for the loss of former Minister Joyce Murray, who put so much time into understanding this file. 

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was expected to release the long-awaited Transition Plan for B.C. salmon farms this month, but with the new appointments in place, we expect further delay. In fact, further delay would be helpful, as it’s going to take some time to unpack all that’s wrong with the Transition Plan consultation for the new Minister. 

In the final round of consultation, the Department was clearly pushing an extension for farms beyond the 2025 date in the former Minister’s mandate (the new Minister doesn’t yet have her marching orders). The questions it posed for consultation tried to direct respondents to reflect on the potential loss of employment and economic activity—both Provincial concerns. The potential outcomes for wild salmon, should the farms be removed, didn’t really figure into the questions at all.  This is not surprising, as DFO continues to insist they do no more than minimal harm to wild salmon. In that fiction, removing the farms would have no effect. 

Meantime, the industry is busy investing in technology that doesn’t solve the problem. It is no doubt responding to the consultation framework, which asked that they ‘reduce or eliminate interactions’ with wild salmon. The ‘interactions’ were never specified, so there is no way to measure reduction or elimination. The technology being installed is intended to reduce the impact of lice on the farms but has not been shown effective at eliminating sea lice altogether. It also does nothing to control the liquid and solid effluent, which we now know to be laced with bacteria and viruses that cause disease in wild salmon.  It also continues to rely on open-net pens to grow the fish to market size, so the DFO version of ‘transition from open-net pens’ includes a transition to…open-net pens. 

We can only hope that, with the number of pressing issues on the new Minister’s agenda, she listens to her B.C. colleagues, all of whom are supportive of the mandate because you have told them you insist that they get the job done!   

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