Ending Open Pen Salmon Farms in BC

Sonia - February 29, 2024

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(Photo credit: Brandon Deepwell c/o Pacific Salmon Foundation. Image: Open Net pens, BC)

“We don’t allow open pens of millions of cattle along the migratory routes of endangered caribou; we don’t allow poultry farms in avian sanctuaries; we shouldn’t allow open net pen [salmon farms] on the migratory routes of endangered wild salmon.”
– Sean Jones, lawyer, Partner at MacKenzie Fujisawa LLP.

I am often asked about my position on salmon farms in BC, and where we (Skipper Otto) stand as a company on this topic. We feel very strongly that there is no place for open-pen salmon farms on the BC coast. And so we were heartened in 2020 when then-Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan listened to decades of science and finally announced a plan to remove salmon farms from the BC coast by 2025. Why then, is the new Minister of Fisheries, Dianne Lebouthillier considering extending salmon licenses for another 6 years? We wanted to share some of the facts around this case which point to a clear conflict of interest in the DFO which threatens the future of our wild salmon. Read on to understand a bit more and we hope you’ll join us in signing this petition to insist the Minister sticks to her promise not to renew any salmon farm licenses.

In mid-February, Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, and Sean Jones, partner at MacKenzie Fujisawa LLP laid out the facts in this damning technical briefing on the “persistent, pernicious regulatory capture and dysfunction of our federal regulator (The Department of Fisheries and Oceans or DFO) when it comes to the regulation of fin fish aquaculture in BC.” In other words, although the Minister and the government may want to remove the salmon farms, the presenters in this briefing stated that unelected bureaucrats in the Department are operating under a conflict of interest, blocking science, and ignoring their mandate to protect wild salmon in favour of their mandate to support the industry.

Mr. Jones lays out the astonishing “litany of malfeasance” since 2009 when the BC Supreme Court first ruled that the federal government had jurisdiction to regulate the salmon farm industry. Only 3 short years later, it was clear this was a problem. In 2012, Justice Cohen pointed out the inherent conflict in the DFO’s “dual mandate to promote and police” the salmon farm industry. And from there, Mr. Jones goes on to provide a detailed legal timeline of more than a decade of evidence wherein the DFO “consistently failed in its mandate to adhere to the precautionary principle,” “failed in its duty to consult with the ‘Namgis Nation,” and failed to consider the impacts of open-pen salmon farms on wild salmon. He names the reports and recommendations from 5 different federal court justices, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the Auditor General, and Canada’s Chief Scientist, all of which the DFO ignored. His opening 10-minute speech in this briefing is simple, clear, easy to follow, and utterly damning of the department’s dysfunctional management of the salmon farm industry.

Bob Chamberlain, chair of the FNWSA, speaks eloquently about the opportunities for food security and reconciliation available to the government of Canada through the removal of salmon farms through real actions, not “weak words.” “The industry wants to mischaracterize us all the time,” he says, as he holds up a thick report signed by the 120 First Nations that support the government’ plan to phase out open-pen salmon farms compared to the 9 or 10 that support the industry. “We are focussed on what is of true benefit to the environment,” he says. He echoes Mr. Jones’ words saying that “every angle of investigation into DFO shows how DFO is meddling with science.”  “They are asking us to trust DFO,” he says, shaking his head. “Based on the track record we’ve heard today?! Empty promises and hollow words.”

In the Q&A at the end of this briefing, Mr Jones doesn’t mince words: Is the DFO obstructing? Yes. He explains the well-documented, “persistent and repetitive pattern” where DFO managers intercept and interfere with the science and the policy advice that’s been given to the minister. I felt a chill run down my spine when he said “ignoring science to maintain the economic status quo is exactly what DFO managers did during the cod collapse.” 

So, what’s to be done? Clearly, we need open-pen salmon farms out of BC waters, but we also need a change in governance to address the conflict of interest that has arisen from the DFO’s dual mandate of conservation and industry promotion. The suggestion in this briefing is the DFO return to its initial mandate of conservation while the promotion of industry should be taken over by economic portfolios such as Agriculture or the CFIA. Mr. Jones also recommends the establishment of a national fisheries science board independent of the DFO similar to many other countries and how we in Canada manage endangered species. The hope is that these recommendations would go a long way to resolving the dysfunction we’re witnessing in the DFO.

Watching this briefing was a mix of emotions for me. On the one hand, it was incredibly frustrating to hear of the extensive list of examples of DFO ignoring science and recommendations around the removal of salmon farms over the past decade. But on the other hand, with all the facts laid out so publicly and clearly, I feel that surely the removal of salmon farms and DFO reform is imminent.

Help us send a strong message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the new Minister of Fisheries, Diane Lebouthillier that there is no place in BC waters for open-pen salmon farms. Sign this petition insisting that they keep their promise to phase out open-net pen salmon farms from coastal BC waters by 2025.

Link to the WildFirst petition: https://www.wildfirst.ca/send-a-letter-to-the-minister-2023/
Link to a second petition by Watershed Watch: https://watershedwatch.ca/keep-your-promise/

And an additional article here: https://vancouver.citynews.ca/2024/02/28/first-nations-protect-salmon-farming/

Written by: Sonia Strobel

Sonia - February 29, 2024

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Ending Open Pen Salmon Farms in BC

Sonia - February 29, 2024

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