Georgia Strait Alliance responds to judge ruling in favour of allowing restocking of three fish farms in the Discovery Islands

Image by Bureau of Land Management.

Yesterday, the Federal Court ruled in favour of the two fish farm operators seeking an injunction to allow the continued stocking of farmed Atlantic salmon into open net-pens in three fish farms in the Discovery Islands.

Georgia Strait Alliance was an intervenor in the judicial review in late March, as were the David Suzuki Foundation, Living Oceans Society, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, and independent biologist Alexandra Morton. All were represented by Ecojustice.

In response to this decision, Executive Director of Georgia Strait Alliance Christianne Wilhelmson says:

“This decision undermines the agreement between the Crown and seven Indigenous Nations and puts salmon migrating this spring from the Fraser River at risk for another year of the diseases found in these farms – and it may very well push these stocks to the edge.

“We must not forget that Minister Jordan’s decision and the path to transitioning open net farms out of B.C. waters is a direction years in the making, coming after nation-to-nation consultation with seven First Nations on whose territory these farms have been located.

“It is disheartening that the leadership of the Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwiakah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations has been ignored and the threat to wild salmon could be intentionally exacerbated.

“The science is not debatable. It shows that fish farms cause serious harm, introducing pathogens and waste into the marine environment of migrating wild salmon, including Chinook—the main food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas. This decision could continue to put these fish at risk.

“Georgia Strait Alliance urges Minister Jordan not to accept transfer licence applications that would allow these operators’ farms to be restocked.”

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In December 2020, Minister Bernadette Jordan, on behalf of the federal government, committed to phase out all 19 fish farms in the Discovery Islands, a critical migration route for wild salmon by June 30, 2022. During the 18-month transition period, industry is to complete the harvesting of existing fish, while no new fish of any size can be introduced into open net-pens in this region.

In 2012, the Cohen Commission inquiry, in which Georgia Strait Alliance was also an intervenor, called for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to prohibit open net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands by September 30, 2020, unless they are satisfied that these farms pose, at most, a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.