Océans en santé. Communautés en santé

Transition Plan delayed as PM shuffles Cabinet 

July 31, 2023

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced yet another delay in the release of the government’s Transition Plan for B.C. salmon farms. Originally slated for release in June of this year, the Plan is now delayed until “the fall” so that additional consultation can take place with industry and First Nations. Meanwhile, machinations continue within the Department to derail the Plan. 

To make matters worse, the Trudeau government has just announced a cabinet shuffle. Minister Murray, whose commitment to remove salmon farms has been evident throughout the process, has been replaced by Diane Lebouthillier, the Member for GASPÉSIE—LES ÎLES-DE-LA-MADELEINE, QC. Minister Lebouthillier’s background is in social service and she has previously served as the Minister of Revenue.  Let us hope she recalls the impact that the cod collapse had on the social and economic fabric of her community. 

Tell the Prime Minister’s Office and the new Minister: we still expect salmon farms out of B.C. waters by 2025! 

Together with the delay announcement, DFO released a further consultation framework, designed to exclude anyone who wasn’t ‘engaged’ during the earlier phases of consultation. Living Oceans met with staff to drill down on just who is considered to be ‘engaged’ and learned that the departmental view is that the fishing sector (among others) is not considered engaged because ‘they never bring up salmon farming in our advisory board meetings’. We reminded them of the historic moment when the entire salmon fleet and the union came together to support Minister Murray in her decision to close Discovery Islands salmon farms and ask that farms be kept off the migration routes of wild Pacific salmon. Unlike public consultations over the previous decades, in which fishermen were closely consulted, the current consultation record doesn’t even mention them. 

In fact, the consultation record (published as a “What We Heard” report) suggests the Department continues to turn a deaf ear to input they find inconsistent with business as usual. The report claims that the Department “heard from British Columbians” and does, in fact, (in an appendix to the main report) report that 70 percent of 2,890 brave souls who struggled through the skewed and leading on-line survey “supported a transition away from any marine salmon aquaculture to a sustainable land-based sector.”  A further 8 percent just want to shut the industry down and transition to other, sustainable industries. 

All of the other engagement is reported out by sector, except the public engagement. No mention at all is made of the content of additional letters sent by 37,500 people who availed themselves of conservation groups’ campaign tools to write their own submissions to the process. To say that this is a high level of public engagement in a government consultation would be gross understatement: even the largest conservation groups count it a banner day when submissions break 10,000. DFO didn’t comment on that, either. 

That said, to the extent that DFO ‘heard’ the public, it heard that 78 percent of us want an end to open-net pens. Upwards of 40,000 people chose to express that opinion. 

Curious, then, that the entire report is couched in ‘some said this and some said that’ language, as if the opinions of the 3 foreign multinationals engaged in the salmon farming industry and their suppliers were somehow of equal weight to the opinions of the vast majority of British Columbians, 120 BC First Nations, all of the engaged conservation groups, a dozen independent scientists, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Wilderness Tourism Association, the entire West Coast salmon fleet, the UFAWU—to name just a few of the organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens who contributed to the survey or wrote their own submissions. 

Underlying all of this obfuscation is the simple fact that DFO continues to operate as if the fact that salmon farming harms wild salmon is a misguided ‘belief’ for which over 50 peer-reviewed studies somehow don’t provide a foundation. They continue to hide behind the Department’s infamous so-called risk assessments of certain pathogens, despite evidence clearly showing that some of them are just plain wrong; despite the call from the House Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for an investigation into the chicanery that produced them; and despite the fact that those assessments never looked at the whole spectrum of salmon species in British Columbia. 

Worse yet, despite the clear policy announcement by the government as far back as 2019 that open-net pen salmon farms would be transitioned out of B.C. waters, the Department is approving production increases in Clayoquot Sound. Its consultation framework suggested ‘progressively minimizing’ impacts to wild salmon and so, the industry is making investments in new net pen “technology” like the tarps that Grieg and MOWI are wrapping around the tops of their net pens in the hope of keeping lice out, or the ‘semi-closed’ system that Cermaq trialed last year that killed the farmed fish with their own effluent. In Court (where this is all headed) those approvals and investments are going to be described as a course of conduct on which the companies relied, in the expectation of new licences being issued. That argument has worked once, and the Department is doing everything it can to ensure that it works again. 

Industry lobbyists are working on the Prime Minister’s Office and with every Member of Parliament they can urge to stop the Transition Plan. The disinformation is astounding: our favourite among the Big Lies being told is that closed containment salmon farming can’t work. It’s not only working right here in BC, where both Atlantics and steelhead are being grown in closed containment; the very companies who are saying this are invested in land-based farming in other countries!  

So here we are again, at a point where, despite the science being clearly on our side, it is politics that will make or break the future of wild salmon. Please take a minute to tell the Prime Minister and the new Fisheries Minister one more time that you continue to expect him to fulfill the promises he’s made during the past two elections and remove all of the open-net pen salmon farms, once and for all! 

Click here for a one-click letter to the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Oh, and P.S. The latest news from Alex Morton and the Salmon Coast Field Station: the Discovery Islands farms have now been closed for 3 years. The outmigrating Fraser River juvenile sockeye have just run through there; they are bright, fat, healthy and more abundant than they have been in years. They must still navigate the northerly portion of their migration route, where many farms still operate. But at least when they encounter the lice and disease pathogens, they will be larger and more resilient. We won’t know until 2025 how well they survived…but this fall, watch for the returns of the first cohorts of Fraser salmon to go to sea after the Discovery Islands farms closed. 

Tell the Prime Minister: removing salmon farms works! 

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