A factory fish farm on a stormy day.
Photo Credit: Cermaq | CHEK News

Going, Going … Gone?

DFO is backpedalling big time on a commitment to get fish farms out of BC's coastal waters

It’s hard to believe anything DFO says these days

Back in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a promise to Canadians to get fish farms out of BC’s coastal waters by 2025. He made it in two letters. The first went to former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan on December 13th, 2019. The second went to current minister Joyce Murray last December.

This is the letter:

“Work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities on a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.”

The message comes through loud and clear.

Not long after receiving this letter, Minister Murray said in Globe and Mail interview “… that we are committing to transitioning away from open net-pen salmon farming in BC by 2025.”

So much for that commitment.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society has gotten internal Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) documents. They show that aquaculture staff are watering down the wording this commitment.

In one example, staff tweak an internal memo to, “Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is undertaking work to meet the ministerial mandate commitment to develop a plan by 2025 to transition marine finfish open net pen aquaculture in British Columbia.”

Wait—develop a plan by 2025?

Making a plan by 2025 is long way away from getting all factory fish farms out of the water by 2025.

Stan Proboszcz is a senior scientist at Watershed Watch. He said in a recent blog post he knew something was fishy after reading a DFO transition plan released last summer.

It was supposed to be a path forward for meeting the 2025 deadline. Instead, he said he was “flabbergasted” that “actually removing salmon farms was largely absent from the report….”  

That was the first sign that DFO was backpedalling in a big way. And the suspicions have proven correct.

“It appears DFO Aquaculture staff are attempting to move the goal posts of the promise towards an outcome that will keep open net-pens in the water through 2025 and beyond,” Proboczsz wrote in the blog.

A new decision muddies the water even more. The federal government approved the expansion of three factory fish farms in Clayoquot Sound.

The First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance is urging people to express their concerns by filling in an online DFO survey.

“In their survey, Fisheries & Oceans is suggesting options like ‘semi-closed, ’hybrid,’ or ‘offshore’ farms in the ocean – this means open-net pen salmon farms will remain in BC Waters,” the organization said in October 27th statement on its website.

But you can always fill out the survey and just say get the fish farms out by 2025 like you promised.

Not surprisingly, the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) is pleased with DFO’s approach.

BCSFA executive director recently met with with Joyce Murray. In a statement, he said that “It was heartening to hear that the Minister is seeking to work with us to support the development of the Transition Framework.”

But is what’s best for industry the best thing for wild salmon? Probably not.