Feds say transition from open net-pen fish farms in B.C. has begun

Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, November 12, 2020

In an online press conference today, Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries, announced that moving towards more sustainable aquaculture technology is a priority. (Terry Beech MP photo)

Tofino, BC — 

The federal government says it is moving forward in transitioning away from open net-pen fish farms in coastal British Columbia.

In an online press conference today, Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries, announced that moving towards more sustainable technology is a priority.

“What that technology is and what best fits for British Columbia over the near future is part of what needs to be examined,” he said.

Many wild pacific salmon stocks are in peril. This year saw the lowest Fraser River sockeye salmon return on record, according to the Pacific Salmon Commission.

“We know that open net-pen fish farms affect wild stocks,” said Beech. “Much of the debate is around how much the farms affect those stocks and what is an acceptable level of risk.”

In consultation with Indigenous communities, aquaculture industry and conservation stakeholders, Beech said he is approaching the issue with “urgency.”

“This has been a controversial issue where [for] some people, the only solution is to have all of the pens out of the water yesterday,” he said. “For others, they would hope to see the industry as it is expanded. I think a responsible path is going to [be] navigating multiple stakeholders.”

During the federal election, the Liberal Party’s campaign platform promised to phase out open-net fish farms in coastal waters by 2025. Canada’s fisheries minister, Bernadette Jordan, was given a mandate to establish a plan by then.

While Beech said that the government is “beginning the transition now,” it is still unclear what the end game will look like.

“Part of going into meaningful consultation is not predetermining the outcomes,” he said.

In 2018, Canada’s aquaculture section generated almost 25,000 full time jobs, mainly in coastal, rural and Indigenous communities, said Beech.

Aquaculture is a key component to the Canada’s blue economy, which promotes the use of marine resources for economic growth.

An independent report recently published by RIAS Inc., an economics-consulting firm, concluded “if Ottawa and Victoria are able to provide a predictable policy approach, salmon farmers in B.C. are poised to help lead Canada’s blue economy and recovery from COVID-19 by directly investing $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology, and infrastructure through 2050,” read a release.

Almost half of all fish consumed by people today comes from aquaculture, said Beech.

“Both in our economy and in our diet, aquaculture meets a clear and growing demand,” he said.

The transition will be geared towards complementing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Wild Salmon Policy.

“Wild salmon aren’t just a significant economic driver in British Columbia, they are part of our cultural identity as a province,” said Beech. “They feed and nourish our people, our land and our whales. They are a core piece of biodiversity that we must not just work to protect but work to restore their populations to traditional levels of abundance.”