Thousands of aquaculture jobs to be lost as DFO Minister flipflops her opinion on B.C. salmon farms in the Discovery Islands

Above feature photo from Kaitlin Guitard’s Facebook page.

By mid-2022, all salmon farms in the Discovery Islands of British Columbia B.C. will have to be closed. Currently, there are 19 salmon farms located in the Discovery Island region — with nine that are already empty. Regardless, all 19 farms will have their licenses renewed for 18 months — until the end of June 2022.

According to Kaitlin Guitard, a Sea Technician for Mowi Canada West, back in 2016, Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan had a very different opinion on open-net salmon farming than she does today saying;

“Removing salmon aquaculture from the marine environment will threaten thousands of jobs, most of them located in the rural, remote and coastal areas hard hit by downturns and other resource industries. More than 50 First Nations are involved in aquaculture, providing stable, full-time employment for Indigenous youth that enables them to stay in their communities,” said Minister Jordan in response to a petition that requested legislation to remove all caged salmon farms in B.C. waters.

“This was her response in 2016 and now, just weeks before the end of 2020, days before Christmas — Minister Jordan has in the simplest of terms — changed her mind,” said Guitard in a video posted to Facebook.

“With the removal of these farms, Minister Jordan’s words in 2016 haven’t rung more true than today in 2020. Removing these farms will threaten the thousands of jobs in rural and remote areas. And those 50 First Nations involved in aquaculture — will lose the stability of full-time employment — particularly the youth. As a youth working in the salmon industry, my job and my future is being threatened right now, and so is the jobs of hundreds of colleagues — some of which I consider my family.”

The decision to close salmon farms in the Discovery Islands came a few weeks ago with the opposition from First Nations there forcing them out.

In a news release from Minister Jordan she said the following;

“The Government of Canada remains committed to sustainable, environmentally conscious aquaculture, but it must be developed collaboratively and include the voices of Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. Today’s decision was not easy.”

The date to phase out these farms had everyone confused.

The Trudeau Liberals plan is to phase out open-net salmon farming in B.C. by 2025. Previously, a mandate letter from Trudeau to then fisheries minister Johnathan Wilkinson suggested the phase-out would have to occur by 2025. And when Jordan became DFO Minister, she said that the mandate was to have a plan by 2025 to phase them out.

According to a government news release and biv.com, the date is for a transition from open-net salmon farms to something else — not the date for a plan to be ready and in place.

“I am committed to working with all involved parties; the First Nations, industry and the Province of British Columbia, over the next 18 months to ensure a fair and orderly transition process that phases out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands,” said Minister Jordan in a press release.

Cost of salmon likely to increase as inland farms are not as cost-effective

The transition may lead to inland salmon farms instead of ones operating in the ocean — instead of salmon living in their natural habitat (although in a farming environment), they may just be pushing farmers to use a controlled environment like tanks to produce the salmon.

According to a CBC News video, an inland Salmon Farm infrastructure costs $9 million — four times the cost of a farm in the ocean. They also mention in this video that land-based salmon farming is 12 times less profitable than open-net salmon farming.

According to Christopher Wilson in a video on Rebel News’ YouTube channel from 2016, the cost therefore will rise for salmon since it is not as cost-effective.

“So salmon farming is okay if they use tanks?” he said in response to Biologist Alexandra Morton saying it wasn’t okay to be practiced in the oceans at a press conference that featured Vegan activist and celebrity Pamala Anderson as well as Canadian academic David Suzuki.

He continues;

“I looked into this a little bit more and it turns out the economic viability of land-lock tanks compared to sea pens (or open-net farm) for farmed salmon simply doesn’t work on a large enough scale to meet demand and keep the prices lower than their wild counterparts,” said Wilson.

Wilson also mentions in the video that at that time in 2016, the B.C. Salmon Farming Association told them that 78 per cent of the salmon harvested in B.C. is done under the 20 agreements with First Nation communities. While 25 per cent of the direct employees at salmon farms are First Nations.

Why are First Nations and others opposing the salmon farms?

One of the main reasons is due to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which essentially allows First Nations peoples to make a land claim on traditionally Native land and can eventually make them the owners of the land regardless of who legally owns it. You see this with the construction project turned violent in Caledonia, Ont.

According to Canada’s National Observer, the decision to close salmon farms came after consultations between the DFO and BC’s Indigenous Peoples; Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwiakah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations. This ended in early December with the decision to not renew the licenses of the farms after June 2022.

One of the most controversial opinions involved in this debate on closing the salmon farms is how dangerous it is for the wild salmon population.

Sea Lice, “Slice” or “Salmon louse”
Sea lice

The salmon louse or sea lice is a parasite that mostly lives on salmon, particularly on Pacific and Atlantic salmon as well as sea trout. It is sometimes found on the three-spined stickleback. These sea lice feed on mucus, skin and blood of the fish. While they’re not harmful to adult salmon as they are benign, they can be a danger to young salmon when there are too many of them. The smaller the fish the fewer the lice it can tolerate.

Just last year the government announced stricter measures of enforcement to sea lice in British Columbia.

While some research has shown the release of massive amounts of sea lice into the sea being harmful to wild salmon — leading to possible extinction — other sources, including the Government of Canada have found ways to manage the sea lice.

WATCH: Aquaculture Research: Alternative Control Methods for Managing Sea Lice

Dr. Chris Pearce says in this video that they have been working on lab trials regarding the use of filter-feeding shellfish.

“Up until now, we’ve been primarily focused on doing lab trials, looking to see if these species of filter-feeding shellfish can indeed consume sea lice larvae.
And the research on both coasts has been very positive.  It’s shown that all species that we’ve tested, can indeed consume planktonic sea lice larvae,” he said.

They go on to say in a controlled environment this is very promising but it doesn’t account for currents and other factors that may move the sea lice around.

Another way they can control sea lice is through traps and if the lice survive to the adult stage they can use cleaner fish.

 “On that strategy, we are using sort of predators of those and those would be things like the cleaner  fish…and a lot of those fish are like wrasse, in the wrasse family. And we are using similar fish here. So the Cunner, that we… that’s local. And that will pick off some of the adult lice. Particularly the large egg-bearing females. And there’s another fish as well, called the Lumpfish. And it’s, it’s a small cute little fish, kind of looks like Nemo a bit maybe, but it sticks on the side of the salmon, and can actually pick off the lice,” said Dr. Robinson

So there are many ways to manage sea lice — but the government with pushback from the First Nations are still pushing out many farms and thousands of workers from their jobs and potentially even their homes in the Discovery Islands. Guitard mentions in the video from earlier that she moved out to British Columbia from Nova Scotia just last year to work in the salmon industry.

They are pushing them out of the Discovery Islands and transitioning them to other alternatives that will cost the consumer more while the First Nations people say it is destroying ecosystems and that farmers should look for a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way to farm — which is heavily mentioned on the farms websites — as well as practiced by companies like Grieg Seafood, The BC Salmon Farmers Association and others.

Diverge Media has reached out to Grieg Seafood and The BC Salmon Famers Association for comment, although we have yet to hear anything back.


What do you think about Minister Jordan’s future for the salmon farms in the Discover Islands of British Columbia? Do you think it’s fair to the workers and their families?

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