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Salmon farmers see way forward for transition plan despite court ruling

BC salmon farmers say collaboration will provide a way for the aquaculture industry to continue to operate despite a recent court ruling upholding the federal fisheries minister's decision to not renew licences
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Mowi Canada West salmon farm. (Mowi photo)

BC salmon farmers are optimistic that collaboration will provide a way for the aquaculture industry to continue to operate despite a recent court ruling upholding the federal fisheries minister's decision to not renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms in the Discovery Islands off British Columbia.

In a delayed response, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) says Friday, June 14 it was "disappointed to hear the result of the second judicial review decision."

The judicial review was filed by We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations, along with Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood, following former DFO minister Joyce Murray’s decision to not renew aquaculture licences in the Discovery Islands region, within the core traditional territory of the Laich-kwil-tach and Klahoose peoples. 

The June 7, 2024 written ruling from Judge Paul Favel says former fisheries minister Joyce Murray’s February 2023 decision not to renew the licences for farms around B.C.’s Discovery Islands met the “requirement of the duty to consult” and “did not breach the operators’ rights of procedural fairness.”

Favel also says the federal decision, which cited the uncertain risks posed by fish farms to wild salmon, was “reasonable.”

In a statement posted on it's website, the BCSFA says, "While this news is disheartening, there is still a collaborative pathway forward with the current Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, as this decision was made by the preceding minister and will not impact the future delivery of a responsible transition plan or the upcoming licencing decision. 

"We are committed to working with all levels of government, the rights-holder First Nations in whose territories we operate, and various other stakeholders to continue on a responsible, realistic, and achievable path forward. We will have more to say in the coming weeks after we have had time to review this decision in more detail. "

The application for judicial review into the decision not to renew licences was launched by the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai nations in the areas of Quadra Island and Campbell River, some 200 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, as well as salmon farm operators, including Grieg Seafood, MOWI Canada West and Cermaq Canada.

Court documents say the First Nations made the application with concerns about the federal minister’s duty to consult, while salmon farm operators applied to review procedural fairness in Murray’s decision.

Environmental groups were pleased with the ruling but the industry was taken aback.

“We are encouraged to see the court upholding the precautionary principle,” said Bob Chamberlin of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance. “This decision gives us hope that the Transition Plan for B.C. salmon farms will continue to give effect to the principle and protect wild salmon stocks throughout the province. 

“This is a vindication of the Minister’s right to reject the advice of her department where it does not align with the precautionary approach,” said Tony Allard, Chair of the Wild First campaign. “She took the trouble to learn about the science that her department officials have been suppressing or ignoring and made the right call. We are indebted to her for taking decisive action to protect wild salmon.” 

Grieg Seafood said in a statement that, "Grieg Seafood fully supports the Nations’ rights to self-determination and is disappointed by the decision. We will continue to focus on working within the broader transition framework to support a responsible plan for the future of aquaculture in British Columbia."

Cermaq Canada says, "Today, Cermaq Canada is disappointed to learn that we were not successful in the second judicial review of the federal government’s decision to not renew aquaculture licences in the Discovery Islands region, Historically, Cermaq operated three sites located within the core traditional territory of the Laich-kwil-tach and Klahoose peoples. 

"Cermaq Canada will continue to focus on working within the broader transition framework and to support a responsible plan for the future of aquaculture in British Columbia."

And MOWI Canada West, which also has sites located within the traditional territory of the Laich-kwil-tach peoples, echoed those statements, "Mowi Canada West will continue to focus on working within the broader transition framework and to support a responsible plan for the future of aquaculture in British Columbia."

– with files from Canadian Press



Alistair Taylor

About the Author: Alistair Taylor

I have been editor of the Campbell River Mirror since 1989. Our team takes great pride in serving our community.
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