“Future of home-grown salmon” at stake in Canadian dispute

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The head of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance has warned that the “future of home-grown salmon” is at stake amid a dispute between British Columbia farmers and the country’s government over the renewal of salmon farming licences.

“There’s a lot at stake for the future of home-grown salmon and we need the Trudeau government to make decisions informed by proper consultation with producers, indigenous leaders and local communities based on the scientific evidence,” Tim Kennedy, the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, told The Globe and Mail.

“Global demand for fish is growing as is the demand for sustainable, low-carbon solutions. Canada should be the best in the world at farming salmon, and in doing so we can ensure Canada has a secure supply of this important food protein,” Kennedy added.

79 salmon farming licences are set to expire on June 30, with the federal government having not yet made a formal decision on their future, as the country moves to phase out British Columbia salmon farms as part of a transition to open net salmon farms on the west coast.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is in the middle of a review into whether the salmon farming licences in British Columbia should be reviewed. The government has claimed that it is committed to growing Canada’s Blue Economy on all its coasts but First Nations claim they have been shut out of the decision making process over the future of salmon farming in their territories.

A recently released report found outlined how British Columbia communities would lose 4,700 jobs and, as much as, $1.2 billion in economic activity per year if all 79 farming licences are not renewed. The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million.

The Canadian government has, so far, closed around a quarter of the salmon farms in British Columbia, refusing to renew licences for 19 sites in the Discovery Islands. The Discovery Islands was previously identified by the Cohen Commission of causing a bottleneck for wild salmon migration routes, resulting in a recommendation that the fish farms in the area should be removed unless the fisheries minister could be satisfied that they posed no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.

The ministry’s own scientists did find that the farms posed no more than a minimal risk but, despite that advice, the Trudeau government ordered the closure of the farms anyway.

A group of British Columbia First Nations have been lobbying the Canadian government to renew the salmon farming licences before the June deadline.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) released a statement in March urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to respect the rights of the “original stewards of Canada’s coastal waters for millennia” by reissuing the licences that bring “many benefits” to the country’s indigenous communities.

“As the rights and title holders of our territories, what the future of salmon farming looks like should be up to us,” FNFFS urged during a visit to Canada’s capital Ottawa at the end of March, criticising the lack of consultation with First Nations on “any transition plans” for the fisheries industry.