The British Columbia salmon farming industry is approaching a June deadline for the renewal of 79 remaining netpen salmon farming licenses in the Canada province.
Claire Teichman, press secretary for Canada Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, told IntraFish the protection of wild Pacific salmon is a priority for British Columbians, and the minister plans to follow through with transitioning from netpen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.
It so far remains unclear whether the country's fisheries minister will renew the licenses, which will determine the fate of the salmon farming industry's remaining 4,700 workers and CAD 1.2 billion (€847.6 million/$942.5 million) in economic activity generated by salmon farming in the province, according to the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).
Teichman said the minister could not comment on the specific status of the 79 remaining licenses up for renewal in British Columbia. However, she said the minister is following former Parliamentary Secretary Terry Beech's consultation on a plan to phase out netpen farms that was published in July of 2021.
While not providing a detailed timeline on license terminations, the report canvassed salmon farmers, First Nations and other stakeholders in British Columbia, showing a complex web of concerns, frustrations and tension that the minister is considering as part of the license renewal process.
"The Minister will be prioritizing her review of the work done thus far to determine what’s required to fulfill our government's commitment, as well as to introduce Canada’s first-ever Aquaculture Act," Teichman said.
A call for clarity
Meanwhile, the BC Salmon Farmers -- whose members include Mowi, Cermaq and Grieg --continue to ask for "immediate engagement" on the license renewals as well as "a clear timetable to address these issues," according to their latest commissioned report on the matter.
Michelle Franz, manager of communications, partnership and community for the BC Salmon Farmers, told IntraFish that all salmon farming companies in BC with licenses up for renewal have supplied the required information to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and formally indicated the need for all expiring licenses to be reissued.
"There has been no response to date," she said.
Murray has not publicly commented on the status of the licenses. However, in February she announced investments of CAD 11.8 million (€8.3 million/$9.3 million) to support First Nations commercial fisheries enterprises.
She also touted the technology of land-based steelhead farmer Taste of BC Aquafarms, a subsidiary of US-based Blue Star Foods Corp., during a visit.
Some First Nations have suggested that land-based aquaculture is an economic development opportunity for First Nations that would allow them to retain aquaculture jobs while transitioning from netpen aquaculture, according to the government's report on the issue from July of 2021.
The BC Salmon Farmers say that even if the licenses are renewed on a temporary basis, BC would still lose "all investment in the sector."
In January, Mowi Canada West said it would permanently close its fish processing plant in Surrey, British Columbia. The decision, the company said, is a direct result of the Canadian Government’s 2020 ruling to cancel all salmon farming licenses in the Discovery Islands.
A total of 19 sites, owned by Mowi, Cermaq, Grieg Seafoods and two smaller firms, will be phased out in the Discovery Islands region by June of this year as well.
Several of Canada's First Nations have expressed support for the decision to phase out salmon farming in British Columbia's Discovery Islands by next year, noting the decision was a clear affirmation of "Canada's constitutional obligations" under the The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a policy Canada has declared to be a public commitment to since 2016.
The BC Salmon Farmers said the licenses recognize Indigenous rights and title and that the industry holds partnership agreements with 17 First Nations in BC.
In 2018, the British Columbia government and the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mix, ‘Namgis, and Mamalilikulla First Nations groups agreed to close 10 of the 17 farming sites in the Broughton Archipelago operated by Cermaq and Mowi, though at the time the agreement left open the option for First Nations to negotiate with Mowi and Cermaq on sites and productions in other waters.
- Blue Star Foods secures financing to help it meet rising product demand
- New industry group to fight Canada government's decision to phase out salmon farming in key BC region
- 'Grieg has been wise enough to see the writing on the wall': In landmark agreement, First Nation takes the lead on salmon farming lease