According to federal government data, Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of farmed salmon and is an important economic driver for coastal and rural communities on the east and west coasts of the country.
British Columbia alone accounts for over 70% of Canada’s farmed salmon production.
In 2020, of the 120,427 tonnes of salmon produced in the country, 91,808 tonnes came from British Columbia, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
On the ground, this translates into approximately 7,000 jobs in coastal communities and an estimated $1.5 billion contribution to the provincial economy each year, according to the British Columbia Salmon Growers Association.
Earlier this year, BC Premier John Horgan called for Ottawa to provide financial assistance to the industry in anticipation of the closure of many salmon farms.
Intentions that do not date from yesterday
The farmed salmon industry is going through a pivotal period and is now paying the price for the directions and decisions taken in recent years.
First, that announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2019 election to plan by 2025 in British Columbia to replace sea pens with closed farming methods for salmon farming.
Then, the decision announced at the end of 2020 to end net salmon farming in the Discovery Islands region. A decision made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada following consultations with First Nations in the region and the report of the Cohen Commission on the decline of sockeye salmon populations in the Fraser River, which dates back to 2012.
At the time, the Federal Commission of Inquiry made a list of 75 recommendations to protect sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in British Columbia. One of these was to ban salmon net farming in the Discovery Islands by the end of September 2020.
Several salmon farms are located on the migratory route of salmon in the Discovery Islands and could introduce or aggravate diseases in wild salmon, underlined the report of the federal Commission of inquiry.
Many Pacific salmon stocks are declining to historic lows. Currently, 50 populations of Pacific salmon are under consideration for possible listing or awaiting assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
In June 2021, Ottawa announced a National Pacific Salmon Strategy (including sockeye, pink, chum, chinook and coho salmon) to stabilize, protect and rebuild West Coast salmon stocks. before it’s too late.
Next weeks crucial for the industry
By the end of May, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada must say whether or not it intends to appeal the recent decision of the Federal Court in the Discovery Islands case. The Court decided on April 22 to annul the decision of the federal government to close salmon farms in this sector and maintains the injunction which allows three farms to resupply their sites with salmon.
The Discovery Islands region near Campbell River alone accounts for nearly a quarter of the province’s farmed salmon production, according to the British Columbia Salmon Growers Association. It is one of the main Atlantic salmon farming areas in the province.
In all, 1,500 jobs in coastal villages are set to disappear in this region.
The Discovery Islands has 19 farms, but there are a total of 109 currently licensed aquaculture sites in British Columbia, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Of these sites, 108 raise salmon. Most salmon farms are located around Vancouver Island.
Most sites hold a license that will expire on June 30. Others expire next August or September. To be able to continue operating, these sites depend on the green light from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations.
Decisions regarding the reissuance of these permits for any of these sites will be made and communicated prior to the expiration of existing licensessays the federal government.
About 80 salmon farms with licenses expiring in June are holding their breath on the West Coast awaiting Ottawa’s decision.