Victory for BC salmon farmers as judge overturns plan to shut down farms

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Nineteen salmon farming operations in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands that were bound to be shut down this June have been given a new lease on life after a federal judge ordered the government to set aside the plan.

In her ruling released Monday, 25 April, Justice Elizabeth Heneghan found that former Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan was in “breach of procedural fairness” when she announced the closures of 19 farms in the Discovery Islands in December 2020.  The judge also said it is Jordan’s “duty to provide reasons” for her decision.

The Discovery Islands farms, operated by Mowi, Cermaq and Grieg Seafood, produce a quarter of the farm-raised salmon in British Columbia.

This is the second time a federal judge has ruled in favour of BC’s farmed salmon industry on the issue. In Minister Jordan’s December 2020 decision, no new fish should be introduced into any of the farms slated for shut down; however in April 2021, a federal judge allowed Mowi Canada West to proceed with the transfer of the smolts to its farms in the Discovery Islands so it could prevent layoffs and the potential destruction of millions of fish.

“The only evidence before me is that today, salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon,” Justice Panagiotis Pamel said at that time.

Salmon farmers in British Columbia and the coastal communities depending on the industry for their livelihoods see the development as a victory. In a statement, the BC Salmon Farmers Association says it is encouraged with the judgment.

“This is a positive development for the coastal Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in which we operate, and the thousands of family-supporting jobs our sector sustains. We will be reaching out to First Nations in whose territories we operate to review this decision and will have more to say in the following days and weeks ahead,” it said.

Meanwhile, the fate of the 79 salmon farming licenses that are expiring on June 30 this year remains uncertain. Current Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray made clear in March her intention to follow through on her predecessor’s plan to move open net-pen salmon farming in British Columbia to closed containment farming systems by 2025. She has yet to issue a decision on these farms.