The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is adding its voice to a chorus of protest from communities and companies impacted by a federal decision to shut down salmon farming in B.C.’s Discovery Islands.
In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the umbrella organization called for the immediate development of a growth plan for B.C. salmon aquaculture to provide clarity and certainty for investors. CFA says a federal department other than Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) also needs to champion the economic growth of the sector.
“DFO’s mandate seems to preclude this,” the letter reads. “Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada should be a better home, but would need an expanded mandate.”
The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in the narrow waterways of the Discovery Islands by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks. DFO risk assessments on nine pathogens last year found the impacts were below that critical threshold, but public pressure resulted in three months of consultation with area First Nations and the eventual decision of Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out the 19 farms by June 2022.
During the transition farmers are prohibited from adding new fish to the pens.
The industry estimates the move jeopardizes 25 per cent of farmed salmon production and 1,500 jobs.
CFA accuses the government of contradicting it’s promise of making science-based decisions with transparency and thorough public consultation when it ignored its own scientists’ favourable risk assessments of salmon farming last year.
“Because the farms passed this high bar of performance, the process for renewing federal licences should have been fair and taken into account this performance, the science, and community impact,” the letter read. “Unfortunately it did not.
CFA’s disappointment follows a stream of letters from mayors and Conservative MPs angry that coastal communities and industry were not consulted equally as area First Nations.
On Jan. 18 B.C.’s three major salmon farm operators filed for separate judicial reviews of the decision with the Federal Court. They are, in part, hoping for a reversal of the conditions barring them from transferring a final generation of young salmon from land-based hatcheries to the ocean pens for rearing and harvest.
Homalco First Nation Chief Darren Blaney said this week it was disappointing to see “unanimous support” coming from city halls to fish farms, cautioning a judical review would be a direct challenge to reconciliation and Aboriginal rights.
“If they (aquaculture industry) want to reinstate the farms they will have to consult with First Nations going all the way up to the end of the Fraser and every other person who gets impacted on the B.C. coast,” Blaney said
The Homalco and other nations are discussing the matter with the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN).