Joyce Murray, Canada's minister of fisheries, is delaying the release of a draft of a public netpen transition plan that could include further removal of salmon farms until after summer, her department confirmed with IntraFish Monday.

The decision, which has not been announced publicly, was based "on requests from First Nations, industry, and stakeholders," Matthew Dillon, a spokesperson for Murray, told IntraFish. "We are extending consultation on the open netpen aquaculture transition to all interested parties through the summer," he said.

Murray's office later told IntraFish the "government is committed to protecting wild pacific salmon" with the species facing "many wild Pacific salmon runs on the verge of collapse."

Brian Kingzett, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers, said during a press conference last week the salmon farming industry is desperate for "business certainty to be able to continue investments" as it reels from the shuttering of 40 percent of existing operations in British Columbia with the closing of Discovery Islands farms as well as the First Nations-led farm removals in Broughton.

"Any further cuts could be the end of the sector," Kingzett emphasized, adding if Canada's federal government transitions from netpen farming to a completely land-based production method, the industry will move completely away from British Columbia.

Dillon confirmed with IntraFish it remained unclear how the delay in the draft plan would impact the minister's transition timeline, which was released last year, and stated a draft transition plan would be completed in June.

As of Monday Tim Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA), told IntraFish the salmon industry had received no formal notification that consultations were extended.

Kennedy said in May the minister appeared to be running behind schedule when it came to transition plans and that she was also not being open and transparent with the salmon industry about what would come next.

Michelle Franz, a spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers, told IntraFish as of Monday afternoon, her organization had also not received any official word from the minister's office about an extension.

Isaiah Robinson, general manager of Kitasoo Development Corporation, told IntraFish recently he shares the same frustrations as the BC salmon farmers over Murray's actions as well as lack of communication of key decisions.

He added the minister so far has not taken a key point of her 'What We Heard' report into her decision-making.

That key point stated "While reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a key objective for the government of Canada, it is worth noting that there is not a consistent understanding or vision of what reconciliation should look like with respect to open netpen transition," he said.

The remote Kitasoo Xai'xais Canada First Nation holds six of the 79 salmon farming licenses that could be put into jeopardy if the fisheries minister decides to steer completely away from netpen salmon farms in British Columbia. The six salmon farms are operated by Mowi through a protocol agreement where Mowi leases the farms and make up more than half of the Nation's economic revenue.

Robinson traveled to Ottawa with members of the The First Nations for Finfish Stewardship Coalition last month to seek federal help in regards to Murray's lack of consultation. Its members represent more than 10 coastal First Nations between mid-Vancouver Island and BC’s central coast, including the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation, Quatsino, Wei Wai Kum, We Wai Kai, Tlowitsis and Kitasoo-Xai’xais.

The coalition is asking the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to "do its due diligence and undertake a full social and economic impact study of the coastal communities that will be hurt by any decision on the salmon farm transition that will remove opportunity and revenue."

It is also asking for the government to extend the transition process into 2024, which it says "goes hand-in-hand with our call for proper impact studies be conducted by a federal body."

Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans timeline for creating framework for transition from salmon netpens

Phase 1 (Late July to September 2022)

Phase 1 focuses on information sharing and initial input on the framework through virtual workshops and online consultation. Invitations for virtual workshops will be emailed to First Nations, Indigenous organizations, Industry, conservation groups and local governments in B.C. An online survey will be open for public input through DFO Pacific Region’s consultations and engagement website.

Phase 2 (September to December 2022)

Phase 2 will provide opportunities for detailed dialogue and the exchange of ideas through workshops, roundtables, and meetings. Invitations will be emailed to First Nations and stakeholders in September for participation in Phase Two focused dialogue. DFO recognizes that many First Nations throughout B.C., whether they have salmon aquaculture in their territory or not, may want to contribute to this dialogue. In this phase more detailed information will be presented which will look at recommendations for inclusion in the final transition plan.

Phase 3 (Extended from January to Fall 2023)

Phase 3 will be available for all interested First Nations who want to continue their dialogue with DFO to ensure that they are thoroughly engaged and consulted in discussions related to potential outcomes of a transition plan. This phase will also ensure that all stakeholder groups have the opportunity to hear and respond to the input of other groups.

Phase 4 (March to ?)

Phase 4 will be a continuation of consultations, but more focused on addressing specific concerns and that perspectives are meaningfully considered in drafting the final transition plan. The plan was delayed in June following negative responses from First Nations and industry groups over Joyce Murray's lack of adequate consultation.

Source: DFO