Newly proposed rules require farm operators to satisfy federal government on risks to wild salmon after recent report finds DFO not properly managing aquaculture industry
VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government announced today that it will allow 100 open net-pen salmon farms in B.C. to operate as is, some on a month-by-month basis, until proposed rules come into effect in four years (June 2022). The province is continuing negotiations with local First Nations regarding 20 tenures in the Broughton Archipelago that expire tonight at midnight.
The decision comes on the heels of new federal government research confirming that migrating juvenile wild Pacific salmon are vulnerable to diseases transmitted from open net-pen fish farms. The research also raised concerns that escaped farmed salmon infected with piscine reovirus could transmit it to wild fish.
“This four-year punt is four years too long and will further delay efforts to create a sustainable aquaculture industry in B.C.,” said Jay Ritchlin, David Suzuki Foundation director-general for B.C. and Western Canada.
In April, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not monitoring wild fish health, and concluded it is not doing enough to manage risks associated with salmon farms.
“Putting the onus on the federal government to determine what is safe for wild salmon, after our environment commissioner just found it to be mismanaging this industry, doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Ritchlin said. “The cumulative impact of all the farms causes the harm to wild salmon, so proving their safety on a farm-by-farm basis is unscientific.”
The changes announced today would require open net-pen salmon farms to convince DFO that their operations will not adversely impact wild salmon stocks, while also negotiating agreements with the First Nation(s) in whose territory they propose to operate.
“We appreciate that the B.C. government is committed to engaging with and respecting First Nations’ rights and title, as per its responsibilities under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Ritchlin said. “We hope to see that same commitment applied to other resource development projects. And we look forward to the termination of every tenure opposed by First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago.”
In recent weeks, pressure has been mounting to transition open net-pen farms to land or ocean-based closed containment. Washington State is set to phase out marine farming of Atlantic salmon. Meanwhile, DFO’s 2018 outlook predicts a continuing decline for Pacific salmon populations. And the 75 remaining southern resident orcas are showing signs of malnutrition as their favoured prey, chinook salmon, decline.
“We realize the importance of a viable aquaculture industry to a healthy economy and strong communities throughout this province, but there simply isn’t a place for open net-pen salmon farms anymore,” Ritchlin said. “The provincial government has the scientific evidence necessary to determine open net-pen salmon farms are a risk to wild salmon and are not an appropriate use of provincial Crown tenures.”
There are currently 120 finfish aquaculture tenures in British Columbia, of which 20 will expire in 2018, and five between 2019 and 2022. Twenty-six are on a month-to-month basis. The remaining 69 will expire between 2023 and 2046.
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