Conservation organizations respond to Province’s fish farm announcement
Living Oceans, Georgia Strait Alliance and Watershed Watch issued the following statement in response to the B.C. government's announcement this week:
Wednesday’s policy announcement by the Province is a significant step forward in defending wild salmon against the array of threats posed by open net-pen salmon farms. The decision also represents a strong and positive step towards reconciliation with First Nations.
The new provincial test for granting tenures has two parts: “Effective June 2022, the Province will grant Land Act tenures [leases or licences of occupation] only to fish farm operators who have satisfied Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that their operations will not adversely impact wild salmon stocks, and who have negotiated agreements with the First Nation(s) in whose territory they propose to operate. “
This double test for fish farm operation--approval from host First Nation(s) and minimal risk to wild salmon--is appropriate and aligned with what businesses, First Nations, scientists, commercial and recreational salmon fishers, conservation groups, and thousands of everyday British Columbians have demanded through the Declaration in Defence of B.C.’s Wild Salmon, hosted at SafeSalmon.ca.
Government-to-government negotiations are continuing between the Province and Broughton-area First Nations about the farms in their territories that are now operating on month-to-month tenures, pending the outcome of those negotiations. These Nations have been clear in their opposition to open net-pen fish farms in their territories. We commend all parties for engaging in this important process and look forward to the outcomes. However, we note that dozens of B.C. First Nations from the west coast to the Rocky Mountains don’t have salmon farms in their territories but rely on salmon runs that are exposed to viruses and parasites from coastal salmon farms.
The Province has effectively shifted the decision about leaving net-pens in our waters to the federal government, which would need to consider licence renewals for most salmon farms by 2022. To date, DFO and the federal government have shown no leadership on protecting wild salmon from viruses, parasites, predation, and other threats posed by the fish farms. Concerns raised by the Auditor General and the Cohen Commission of Inquiry, about DFO’s management of the industry, have not been addressed.
Moreoever, the policy will apply only to new and renewing leases; but at least half of the farm leases do not come up for renewal until well after 2022. If the federal government does not announce a significant new policy direction for salmon farming in B.C., we expect salmon farm licences will be renewed in 2022. That would mean that most of the farms would not be affected by the new provincial policy until their leases expire.
In B.C., there are 120 fish farms, but only 25 farms have leases due for provincial renewal by 2022, while 69 expire between 2023 and 2046. A further 26 farms that are said to be on month-to-month leases have not been identified and it is unclear if the policy is meant to apply to them. This means that without leadership from the federal government, we could have open net-pen fish farms in our waters for decades to come.
The four-year timeline to implementation is too long for wild salmon because B.C.’s wild stocks are in crisis, with severe run failures and unprecedented fishery closures around the province this year. Another four years means virtually every salmon run south of the central coast would be subjected to more parasitic lice, disease and possibly further declines. These farms are spewing viruses and parasites on the migration routes of young salmon right now, as they swim past the net-pens on their way out to sea. Farms that do not have First Nations’ approval and proof of minimal harm to wild salmon should not be restocked after their current grow-out cycles are completed.
The Provincial announcement is a significant step forward for British Columbia and the wild salmon that are the heart and soul of our province. But urgent action is still required from the provincial and federal governments to protect wild salmon, and all who depend on them, from the parasites and diseases of fish farms.