B.C. salmon farmers are asking Ottawa for more time to wind down operations in the Discovery Islands, following the release of a new analysis that details the impact on 1,500 jobs and $390 million of economic activity.
With layoffs and culls of juvenile salmon already underway, the industry is seeking permission to complete the grow-out of 10.7-million eggs and smolts to harvestable size, and launch a transparent round of discussions with stakeholders and First Nations for a more equitable transition out of the archipelago.
“We have been speaking about the impacts of this rushed, ill-considered decision since the day it was made, but this report really captured just how widespread the human and animal welfare impacts will be,” BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) executive director John Paul Fraser said. “Thankfully, we are also able to offer a reasonable, respectful way forward, one consistent with genuine reconciliation with First Nations and real engagement with all parties. The ball is now in the government’s court, and we ask them to seriously, and urgently, consider this reasonable way forward.”
Farmed salmon require a five-year planning and production cycle before they reach market size. Up to four years are needed at in-land sites alone before young fish are large enough to be transferred to the ocean grower pens.
On Dec. 17 last year Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan announced DFO would no longer issue farming licences in the island group after June, 2022, giving the sector 18 months wind down operations without the option of transferring any more fish to the ocean pens. BCSFA says the deadline will likely result in the culling of more than 10-million eggs and juvenile salmon, which the association says represents the equivalent of 210-million meals.
At a bare minimum, BCSFA wants the government to allow the transfer of fish to the ocean pens to complete their grow-out cycle.
Above that, they’re asking for a suspension of the Discovery Islands decision to allow the industry time to develop a plan to minimize impacts for employees.
A new economic analysis of the decision, commissioned by BCSFA from RIAS Inc., indicates the 19 Discovery Island farms represents a 24 per cent loss of B.C. operations that could eliminate of 690 direct jobs and place 845 other indirect jobs at risk, mostly in the service sector. The decision also means the loss of $386.6 million in economic output, with an estimated $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits and $21 million less in annual tax revenue at the local, provincial, and federal levels.
Without the option to grow-out the stock, 10.7 million young fish will also be culled, according to the report.
On Feb. 23 Mowi Canada began a cull of 925,000 eggs and juvenile salmon.
A spokesperson for minister Jordan’s office said while the culling of any fish is unfortunate, industry leaders had known for months or years prior that a final decision on the farms would be made by December 2020.
“The Cohen Commission recommended this over a decade ago, and the licenses in that area were only ever renewed on a yearly basis for that reason,” she said.
Directed by the Cohen recommendations, DFO conducted risk assessments of the Discovery Islands farms last year, but found the impacts to wild salmon were below critical thresholds. However public pressure resulted in three months of consultation with area First Nations and Jordan’s subsequent decision.
“In 2021, Canadians expect First Nations to have a say in what economic activity occurs on their territory. These pens were not the right fit for the area,” Jordan’s spokesperson said.
Mowi’s Dean Dobrinsky told Black Press Media three employees were laid off last week with at least another 30 expected through May and June.
“We haven’t asked the government to redo their decision, we’re just asking for time to mitigate these impacts,” Dobrinksky said.
“Morale is awful. People are genuinely worried for their families, their mortgages … it’s the continual talk on all of our sites. The worst part is the uncertainty. We haven’t heard one word from minister Jordan on this.”
Fish farm owners, area mayors and B.C. Premier John Horgan have all stated they were not consulted prior to the decision.
“We’re looking for an opportunity to talk, to look after our employees, look for viable options to move our production, and make those adjustments over a humane, reasonable period of time instead of ‘right now,’” Dobrinksky said.
The Discovery Islands decision follows years of protest from wild salmon advocates who claim the farms act as reservoirs of pathogens and sea lice in the narrow waterways of a critical out-migration route for juvenile salmon.