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Fish farmers association raises concerns over licence renewals

The BC Salmon Farmers Association says more than 4,700 jobs could be lost this year at salmon farms.

The concerns come as 79 different salmon farm licences will be due for renewal in June 2022. The jobs are connected to a $1.2 billion industry within the province, according to the group. They say another $200 million in economic activity and 900 jobs could be lost outside of B.C.

The concerns come as the jobs are in many remote coastal and Indigenous communities. They reference a loss of around 1,500 jobs in 2020 when licences in the Discovery Islands were not renewed.

“They used lack of social acceptability as their reason which is hard to define for anybody and what we know is that they ignored the science which is very clear that salmon farms don’t pose more than minimal risk to wild salmon,” said Ruth Salmon, interim executive director of BC Salmon Farmers Association. “She (Former DFO minister Bernadette Jordan) didn’t consult properly with First Nations or Communities before making the decision.”

Salmon says the loss of jobs would be very difficult for many of the communities as they don’t always have a good fallback. Of the jobs identified, they say 200 are at risk in Courtenay-Comox, 540 between Port Hardy and Port McNeill and nearly 200 in Tofino-Ucluelet.

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“Because so many of them are in rural coastal communities, many of them Indigenous, where there really aren’t other opportunities,” said Salmon. “Government is often very quick to say we’ll help you transition but in those communities, there’s not much to transition to.”

While the decision will not be made until June 30, the DFO says the decisions will be influenced by weather events that have happened in recent years. They say the events along with other fishing practices, climate change and habitat loss have had a big impact on wild Pacific salmon.

“The protection of wild Pacific salmon is a priority for British Columbians,” said Clair Teichman, DFO press secretary. “In recent years, climate change, including BC’s recent landslides and flooding, habitat loss and fishing pressures have negatively affected Pacific salmon at every stage of the lifecycle.”

The DFO say they have established a plan to phase out open-net pen fish farms. Consultation for the plan was published in July 2021.

BC Salmon Farmers Association says the loss would also cause strain on Indigenous relationships. Salmon says as many as 60 new partnerships with First Nations are expected to form in the next 30 years.

The government says they will be looking at work that has been done so far in making further decisions.

“The Minister will be prioritizing her review of the work done thus far, to determine what’s required to fulfill our government’s commitment, as well as to introduce Canada’s first-ever Aquaculture Act,” said Teichman. “As always, continued, close collaboration with Indigenous communities, the Province of British Columbia, industry, scientists and other stakeholders will be key to developing a responsible plan and completing the transition process.”

Salmon says fish farming corporations are doing work to change pens and fishing strategies to limit wild and farmed salmon contact.

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