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Federal fish farm licensing tantamount to wholesale closure: Ahousaht leader

Salmon farm opponents applaud Trudeau government decision to shut down open net salmon farms
Richard George, Ahousaht Nation, reacts to federal salmon farm licensing decision.

Giving salmon farmers in B.C. five years to move to land based or marine containment systems is tantamount to shutting the industry down, said an Ahousaht First Nation leader Wednesday.

“Five years to transition to land-based or closed containment in my territory is the same as shutting our operations down,” Hasheukumiss, Richard George, of the Ahousaht Nation said Wednesday.

He was among the First Nations leaders who support salmon farming speaking at a press conference today in response to the federal government’s announcement that it will give the salmon farming industry in B.C. until 2029 to be out of the water.

“We do not have the land or the supporting power infrastructure to do this,” George said.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Diane Lebouthillier on Wednesday announced she will renew expiring salmon farm licences in B.C. for five years, and then as of June 30, 2029, all open-net salmon farming in B.C. must end.

After July 1, 2024, only marine or land-based closed-containment systems will be considered for salmon aquaculture licences in coastal British Columbia.

Wednesday’s decision was, predictably, welcomed by anti-fish farm activists and slammed by the aquaculture industry.

“This date will serve the longer-term needs of protecting wild Pacific salmon from the impacts of the open-net pen fish farm industry, and is a positive step in that regard,” the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance said in a news release.

As the alliance has pointed out previously, although there are some First Nations in B.C. who support open-net salmon farming, a majority of First Nations in B.C. do not support it, and fear salmon farms have contributed to the decline of wild salmon stocks.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance called Wednesday’s announcement “irresponsible, unrealistic, unreasonable and unachievable.”

“The objective is irresponsible because it threatens 5,000 highly paid and skilled jobs in coastal British Columbia … during a time of economic stagnation,” said Tim Kennedy, president of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.

“There's 5,000 people who depend on employment from this sector right now… 500 of them are directly employed in remote First Nations communities,” said Dallas Smith, spokesperson for the First Nations for Finfish Stewardship and acting chief for Tlowitsis Nation.

Land-based closed containment systems have, so far, proven to be costly experiments. They require hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, and are simply not commercially viable yet. Even if they were, they would not be built in remote communities that the lack the land and the power required for energy intense recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS).

Brian Kingzett, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said the conditions being set for federal salmon farm licences will increase uncertainty for Canada’s aquaculture sector.

“This focus on unproven technology jeopardizes the sector’s ability to fulfill agreements with rights-holder First Nations and will cause further harm to our communities,” he said.

Companies that supply the salmon farming sector in Canada voiced concern over today’s announcement.

“We are very concerned about the federal government’s objective announced today of ‘no more open net pens in BC coastal waters by 2029,’” the companies said in a joint news release.

“What has been announced today does not meet the government’s commitment to a ‘responsible’ plan as it will negatively impact thousands of Canadians.”

As for the B.C. government, which issues tenures for fish farms, the reaction to today’s announcement was muted.

Nathan Cullen, minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, took no issue with the fundamental terms of the federal leases, but suggested the federal government should provide support for workers, communities and First Nations that will be affected by the closure of salmon farms.

"The federal government needs to work directly with impacted communities and workers on next steps, and they must make sure First Nations have a direct role in determining what the transition looks like in their territories,” Cullen said in his press release.”

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