Politicians, when their backs are against the wall and every vote counts, tend to make outlandish promises.
And those who depend on that continued support have to, in one way or another, follow through on those commitments, or at least offer lip service to them (See: "Build the Wall," "Lock Her Up").
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's last-minute, panicky commitment to promote the removal of conventional netpens from BC waters by 2025 is one of those promises.
Little to no thought has been given to how, exactly, this transition will be made, and the divide between the ideals in Ottowa and the realities on Vancouver Island is wide.
But when a federal government sets a priority as visible and divisive as netpen removal, it's wise to take it seriously, and both politicians and their constituents won't be letting Trudeau forget his pledge.
People hate uncertainty, and businesses hate it even more. So it's fair to say that Mowi, Grieg and Cermaq are all looking at their BC operations with some trepidation.
Salmon farming's long BC residency
The payoff for Mowi, Grieg and Cermaq has been mixed in BC, despite their decades of presence in the region.
In recent years, the story has been fairly good for Mowi. The company's Canadian operations have turned in a profitable EBIT/kg margin since 2012, for example.
But Canadian-origin product achieved the lowest EBIT/kg among Mowi's regions in 2018 -- nearly half of the company's EBIT/kg margins in Norway, mainly due to increased mortality from environmental impacts.
British Columbia accounted for 23.9 percent of Grieg's sales in 2018, and contributed NOK 290.8 million ($32 million/€29 million) in EBIT, which is a high water mark for the group. The company reported a loss in 2014, a razor-thin margin in 2015, and has slowly recovered its figures.
Trudeau's plans, coupled with relentless opposition from local environmental groups, doesn't make business any easier.
But he won't be able to push through the netpen ban easily once the numbers are tallied. BC gets a nice chunk of funds from the sector, for one reason. The government coffers took in $13.4 million (€11.7 million) in tax revenue from Mowi alone last year, and $38 million (€34 million) the year prior.
According to the BC Salmon Farmers Association, the industry accounts for CDN$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion/€1 billion) in revenue and 7,000 jobs, many on Vancouver Island, where employment can be scarce. In addition, many of the jobs are held by people of First Nations descent.
Is it worth it?
The industry is great for BC, but what about for Mowi, Grieg and Cermaq shareholders? There's reason to think the risk is worth the potential payoff.
The United States, where nearly all Mowi West's salmon exports end up, remains the province's single largest salmon market in the world. Deliveries to the country rose 8 percent for Mowi in 2018, and the company has made a number of investments in opening the market even more. Demand needs supply.
But, the earnings are a drop in the bucket for Cermaq (Mitsubishi) and Mowi in particular. The company will have no problem generating earnings in years to come, but in its drive to keep those earnings rising and keep shareholders happy, it will make decisions to exit areas that no longer deliver a return on investment, or that are clearly showing a contraction.
There are few places for the salmon industry to grow around the world, and BC has all the right qualities to remain one of the world's leaders. And given the years of commitment, investment and improvement the companies have put into the region and all the hard-fought battles to remain, it's hard to imagine them leaving completely. But there is a cost to continually bucking the tide, and a very, very real cost to taking salmon out of netpens and into closed-containment systems.
Will salmon farmers ride out the storm until a more business-friendly government comes along? Will they begin making the investments and preparations necessary to meet the 2025 demands?
Time will tell, but for now Trudeau has certainly made the future uncertain.