Groups call on BC to deny salmon farm lease renewals

Image credit: Wilderness Committee

Vancouver – Groups working toward the protection of wild Pacific salmon are urging the government of British Columbia not to renew leases for a number of open-net salmon farms along BC’s coast.

The widely-supported appeal comes just two weeks after the release of a report from the Cohen Commission—the federal inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon—which made it clear that salmon feedlots on sockeye migration routes have the potential to pose “serious or irreversible” harm to wild salmon stocks.

While much of the oversight for salmon aquaculture is managed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the BC government issues sea-floor tenures for salmon farms. A number of leases for operating farm sites are currently up for renewal, including 18 in the Broughton Archipelago alone, for two Norwegian companies: Marine Harvest and Mainstream Canada.

As a result, First Nations, environmentalists, scientists and other wild salmon advocates held a rally November 14, calling on the province to deny renewal of these land tenures and stop these salmon farms in their tracks. “Cohen states that if salmon farms have more than minimal risk of serious harm, they should ‘cease operations’,” said Dr. Alexandra Morton. “We are well past minimum risk.”

First Nations between Kingcome and Knight Inlets are being pressured to renew 18 salmon feedlot tenures throughout their territory.

“I know without a doubt that the cost to our wild salmon—and everything that relies on them—isn’t worth it,”said Molina Dawson of the Dzawada’enuxw (Za-wah-day-nook), who will be representing Kingcome Village families at the rally. “So, as long as the government and fish farm companies are actively endangering our fish they will not be getting any support from me.”

“The proponents of this industry, and unfortunately, decision-makers at the federal level, seem perfectly comfortable jeopardizing BC’s wild salmon,” said Torrance Coste, Vancouver Island Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee. “This is a chance for our provincial government to do the right thing for this coast, to step up for BC’s most important wild species,” Coste added.

The Cohen Commission recommended a freeze on increased production in the Discovery Islands, in addition to limiting salmon farm licences to a single year and relieving DFO of their mandate to promote salmon farms. He also recommended more scientific study and gave DFO eight years to show that salmon farms are having less than a “minimal” impact on wild salmon. However, recent legislation changes and cuts to federal fisheries staff have left DFO far less equipped to follow through on these recommendations.

Bonny Glambeck, Campaign Director with the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, is alarmed that Mainstream Canada’s Plover Point salmon farm was approved by the province before Cohen’s findings were released. “Wild salmon migrate all through Clayoquot Sound,” Glambeck explains. “Why did the provincial government give a 20-year lease for a new farm in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve just weeks before Cohen’s report?”