Wild Salmon are in a state of emergency

In 2022, wild Pacific salmon were on the receiving end of three significant federal policies that failed to prioritize their health and wellbeing, and an Indigenous one that did:

  1. Phasing out the 19 fish farms in the Discovery Islands was set aside by a federal judge. The ruling was based on procedural fairness and a requirement that the Minister is required to further explain the reasons for her decision.
  2. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced a two-year renewal of fish farming licences in B.C., outside of the Discovery Islands, until mid-2024.
  3. DFO Minister Murray has confirmed that the proposed framework for a transition plan for open net-pen fish farms does not currently include removing the nets from the waters by 2025, as had been promised.
  4. shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation has come to an agreement with Grieg Seafoods to remove all farmed salmon by the end of November 2022, and to decommission the farms on their territory by early 2023.

DFO as the regulator and promoter of aquaculture in Canada is a deep conflict of interest.

1. Discovery Islands: Setting Aside Phasing Out Fish Farms

This phase-out mandate – an incredibly significant and bold decision – had come from former Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan. A decision was necessary because aquaculture licences in the Discovery Island – a critical migration route for wild salmon – were due to expire in June 2022, per the Cohen Commission.

Jordan’s decision incorporated Indigenous leadership and knowledge from seven First Nations – on whose territories these farms have been located. The decision also went against DFO’s own scientific recommendations that the Discovery Islands fish farms pose only “minimal risk” to migrating wild salmon, despite a significant amount of external science concluding otherwise.

2. Outside of Discovery Islands: Renewing Fish Farming Licences in B.C. For Two Years

DFO Minister Murray’s renewal of licences outside of the Discovery Islands means that industry can continue to operate these farms within the current regulations, while the transition plan is being developed. DFO is leading the transition plan, which is fraught with problems and currently centres on the health and wellbeing of the aquaculture industry, rather than on wild salmon.

3. DFO’s Transition Plan Framework

Unfortunately, DFO’s transition plan framework and consultation has so far centred on the health and wellbeing of the aquaculture industry, and any clear intention to completely remove the nets from the ocean is absent. It also includes in-water and hybrid fish farming technologies, which cannot fully remove waste, disease and pathogens from being dumped into local waters. These alternatives allow industry to continue to benefit and profit at the expense of wild Pacific salmon and other species.

4. First Nations Kicking Industry Out

The shíshálh Nation, known as the Salmon People, are safeguarding wild salmon by having Grieg Seafoods remove their farms from their territory, with decommissioning anticipated to be completed in February 2023. These concrete actions were the result of the Nation’s recent consent-based decision making process, and after more than 30 years of the Nation expressing concerns about the impacts of fish farms on wild salmon to the provincial and federal governments.

It’s time for industry to facilitate a rapid transition to land-based facilities.

What Is GSA Doing?

We’re fighting for wild Pacific salmon, with our advocacy focusing on transitioning the industry to closed-containment facilities on land, with proper waste treatment filtering. This is the only way to eliminate aquaculture’s impact on both wild salmon and the ocean.

At GSA, we advocate for all decisions about fish farming in B.C. to be grounded in free, prior and informed consent by First Nations in whose territories these farms have been operating and where any future land-based closed-containment systems may be located.

We’ve made several trips to court in the last several months, alongside Ecojustice, our legal representative, and allies David Suzuki Foundation, Living Oceans Society, Watershed Watch Salmon Society and independent marine biologist Alexandra Morton. We are also advocating for the federal government to stick to its commitment to remove all farms by 2025.

Wild pacific salmon are already in a state of emergency.

The State of Wild Salmon In 2022

Wild salmon are up against some very significant threats, including the challenges of warmer, more acidic and less hospitable waters, compounded with droughts. Hundreds of thousands of salmon were casualties of climate change this fall, unable to return to their spawning grounds because local rivers were dry in multiple parts of the province.

The impacts of this year’s alarming salmon die-offs will continue for years, reflecting salmon’s two- to five-year life cycles. And extreme weather like this isn’t a one-off, unfortunately. It’s simply one more tangible example that demonstrates the state of extreme emergency that wild salmon are in.

Fish farms are a threat to wild salmon that can quickly and easily be eliminated in order to give them the best chance for survival. For these reasons, GSA is pressing for a transition plan with clear objectives that include:

  • Confirmation the nets will be out of B.C. waters by 2025.
  • Prioritization of First Nations leadership and involvement.
  • Prioritization of Wild Salmon’s health and the inclusion of input from scientific experts, marine ecologists and traditional knowledge holders to ensure that the plan has strong baselines and metrics to measure success.
  • Development of a plan to support the communities affected with new economic opportunities, including closed containment aquaculture jobs and a rebounding wild salmon economy.

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