Saturday, July 20, 2024

Canadian government announces ban on open net fish farming on BC’s coast


The Canadian government just announced that open net fish farming on BC’s coast will be officially banned in the coming years. 

Open net-pen fish farms facilities consist of a system of large cages or nets in BC’s coastal waters that contain hundreds of thousands of fish being farmed for consumption.

On Wednesday, June 19th, Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard made the announcement, stating that this move is being made to aid the wild Pacific salmon population which is currently facing unprecedented threats and to move in a more sustainable direction. 

Initially, the ban was to come into effect by the end of the year but has now been pushed back. 

The ban is to come into effect on June 30th, 2029, allowing a transition period for those involved in the industry. 

By the end of July, the Government of Canada will release a draft salmon aquaculture transition plan that will focus on:

  • How to support First Nations, workers and communities in this transition
  • Identifying economic supports for innovative and clean aquaculture technology
  • Milestones, principles and criteria for the transition of salmon open net fishing over a five-year licence period
  • Management of salmon open net fishing until the ban is fully implemented

Over the next few months, the government says they will be engaging with impacted Canadians to figure out how to best support them. 

All current salmon aquaculture licences will be able to receive a five-year renewal up until July 1st, 2024, in order to facilitate the transition. 

BC’s response to the announcement

Shortly after the announcement, Nathan Cullen, BC’s Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship released a statement regarding the decision. 

“The federal government has made the decision to transition from open-net pen to closed containment salmon farms over the next five years,” Cullen said. 

“Again and again, we have asked the federal government to deliver supports for BC workers, families and communities as part of any transition plan.”

He said that coastal communities need a clear plan and significant funding to support the impacted workers and communities, and that the onus of funding should be put on the federal government.

“We advocated to Ottawa with clear expectations: provide a strong economic future for coastal communities with good jobs, give certainty to businesses, respect First Nations and support environmental sustainability,” he explained. 

“The federal government needs to work directly with impacted communities and workers on next steps, and they must make sure First Nations have a direct role in determining what the transition looks like in their territories.”

Cullen believes that funding should be put towards building infrastructure for closed containment fish farms.

BC salmon farmers’ concerns

According to the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCFA), a five-year period to fully transition poses challenges for further investments in technology and innovations. 

They believe this move by the government will impact the coastal communities who rely on the salmon farming sector.

“Salmon farming in BC has been a vital sector contributing significantly to Canada’s economy and food security,” said Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BCFA.

“However, the political conditions on the licences increase the uncertainty for aquaculture in BC and Canada. This focus on unproven technology jeopardizes the sector’s ability to fulfill agreements with rights-holder First Nations and will cause further harm to our communities.”

The BCFA says the timeline is unrealistic and undermines federal government commitments such as science-based decision making, restoration of wild salmon populations, growth of Canada’s blue economy, among others. 

They added that they will have more to say in the coming weeks, once the conditions of licence and transition plan details are revealed. 

Conservationists’ views

According to Wild First, a conservationist group advocating for an end to open net-pen fish farming, for over 30 years, this practice has put wild Pacific salmon at risk with multiple species now in a critical decline.

They say that the large cages or nets that make an open net-pen fish farm cannot contain or control the outflow of waste from their facilities.

Wild First says that they pollute freely every day, causing rampant deadly parasites, pathogens and pollutants to be released into BC’s coastal waters.

Specifically, they say that these fish farms are oftentimes located in the middle of wild salmon migration routes and rearing grounds. 

The high density of fish packed into a farm pen then acts as a bio-amplifier, which increases the amount of contagious viruses in the water. 

For migrating baby salmon who are heading out to sea for the first time and to adult fish returning to spawn, this could be devastating, according to Wild First. 

More to come after July 1st, when further details are made available. 

Curtis Blandy

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