The latest consultations between the federal government and First Nations regarding the closure of 79 fish farms in the Discovery Islands began in Campbell River on Wednesday.
Aquaculture operators from around the Discovery islands had started the work of scaling back operations after the previous fisheries minister, Bernadette Jordan, made the announcement in late 2020 that 19 salmon farms would be phased out by the end of this past June.
However, a federal judge threw that order out in April when companies such as Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood applied for a judicial review of the order, arguing the order didn’t show “an appreciation of the facts.” Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan overturned the previous minister’s order, suggesting the order breached the fish companies’ right to procedural fairness. This set the stage for Wednesday.
Anti-fish farm protesters gathered around the entrance to Campbell River’s Maritime Heritage Centre Wednesday, aiming to cut off current federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray in her tracks.
Murray has remained steadfast in her current mandate, that the fish farms are to be out of the Discovery Islands waters by 2025.
“I’m committed to this transition, to being away from open net fish farms,” Murray said in a brief statement, citing the need for public consultation and encouraging the demonstrators to have their voices heard via the government’s website concerning the current practice of open-net pen aquaculture.
However, some protesters are still skeptical, suggesting that the ongoing situation might never see a formal conclusion.
“What we don’t want is closed containment,” demonstrator Joel Ulmer commented. “Semi-closed containment does not work. It is very prone to diseases. There is not any benefit to semi-closed. We want them out.”
However, some protesters do remain optimistic and confident that Canada can follow the lead of other nations in a move away from open net fish farming.
“We’ve seen Scotland, it’s a huge issue there. We’ve seen Norway completely shut down (open net pen fish farming) there. Chile, same story,” Mark De Bruijn said.
But he is in agreement on the issue of semi-closed containment, calling it a “joke.”
“In 2010, there was something called the Cohen Commission,” said Bruijin, the former Green Party candidate in the riding of North Island-Powell River. “These consultations went on for months, I attended a couple of the hearings. It was painful to sit there and listen to the tedious arguments, especially from industry. I think the date for removal that was given then was 2022. The Liberal government had now made a commitment to doing it by 2025. It may be far too late considering the impacts that are already being experienced on the ecosystem by these farms. They need to be dealt with now.”
And despite what it may look like on the surface, protester Brian Wadhams, himself a member of a First Nation, doesn’t want the fish farming industry completely closed.
“We’re looking at shellfish and sustainability,” Wadhams says. “It’s not about the farm fishing industry, it’s about the impact it’s having on throughout our territories without our say.”
Talks continued Thursday.