Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Bernadette Jordan on Thursday announced the the Canadian government would phase out salmon farming in British Columbia's Discovery Islands, a move that will impact some of the largest salmon farmers in the region.

A total of 19 sites, owned by Mowi, Cermaq, Grieg Seafoods and two smaller firms, will be phased out in the region after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) consulted with representatives from the aquaculture sector and First Nations groups who have traditional territories in the area, including the Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai (Cape Mudge) and Wei Wai Kum (Campbell River) First Nations.

Licenses for the 19 sites were scheduled to expire on Dec. 18. Of those, nine are fallow.

Fish that are currently in Discovery Island netpens will be allowed to complete their production cycle, but must be completely empty by June 30, 2022.

A spokesperson with Grieg told IntraFish it operates one site in the Discovery Islands, in Barnes Bay, where it is licenses to produce 3,000 metric tons. Representatives from Mowi and Cermaq declined to comment and referred questions to the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

A later Oslo Stock Exchange release from Mowi, however, said its effected farms represent 10-12,000 metric tons, or around 30 percent, of its total average annual harvest volumes in British Columbia from 2022.

Jordan said the decision "was not easy," but added that the Canadian government remains committed to sustainable aquaculture, but added that development must include First Nations groups' input.

"We know that these changes are the results of First Nations voicing their concerns," said Grieg BC Managing Director Rocky Boschman in a statement.

"We have heard these concerns and will continue to listen and work hard every day to improve in the areas required. Our goal is to be the salmon producer that has earned the trust of Rights Holders in the traditional territories where we farm."

BC Salmon Producers' Association, meanwhile, voiced concern at the closures.

"This decision has significant implications and puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk," is said in a statement. "This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important."

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.

The government of Canada has committed to phasing out conventional netpen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia by 2025. Though the transition calls for a move to closed-containment systems, farmed salmon opponents are pushing for salmon farming operations to move on land.