Premier John Horgan meets with Indigenous leaders at Alert Bay, October 2017. (Hanna Petersen/North Island Gazette)

B.C. sets deadline for Indigenous salmon farm consent

All 120 operations will need agreements by 2022, province says

The B.C. government has imposed new conditions on ocean-based salmon farms, requiring them to have agreements with “relevant” Indigenous communities to have their provincial land tenures continued.

The new provincial regulations are to take effect by 2022, B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said Wednesday, the day a group of provincial tenures expire. Those tenures will carry on month-to-month until new conditions are met.

A second new condition is that Fisheries and Oceans Canada give assurances that wild salmon runs are protected from salmon farms. The federal government has the bulk of responsibility for ocean-based aquaculture on all coasts of Canada, including assessing risk for disease and parasite transmission.

Popham said discussions are ongoing with Indigenous communities in the Broughton Archepelago off the north end of Vancouver Island, where 17 salmon farm tenures will continue month to month until there is a resolution. That region has been a focus of protest and occupation of salmon farms.

“This is a four-year transition,” Popham said, created to resolve disputes that have gone on for 30 years. “There is no veto.”

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B.C. Liberal resource critic Ellis Ross, MLA for Skeena and a former chief of the Haisla Nation, said the decision ignores the thousands of people employed in salmon farms, many of them Indigenous and living in remote communities.

Environment critic Peter Milobar said the decision casts doubt on the stability of ranchers, forest workers and tourism operators who depend on provincial Crown land tenures.

B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen said he is disappointed in the decision to let open-pen salmon farms continue operating. He said the NDP minority government should have allowed farms to grow their exisiting salmon to harvest size, then shut them down.

There are more than 100 ocean-based salmon farms operating on the B.C. coast, mainly around Vancouver Island with a half dozen near Klemtu on the Central Coast. More than 6,000 people work on them, and farmed salmon has become the highest-value agricultural export in B.C.

The focus of the new policy is a group of operations around the Discovery Islands off the north end of Vancouver Island, near salmon migration routes, but the new policy applies to all B.C. operations.

The B.C. Liberal government placed a moratorium on new salmon farm tenures on the North Coast in 2012, based on recommendations of an NDP-majority committee of MLAs that studied the issue.

In a 2010 federal commission report on the state of Pacific sockeye salmon runs, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen recommended the moratorium on further salmon aquaculture operations in the Discovery Islands region. Cohen recommended the industry be given until 2020 to show that operations on wild salmon migration routes have “minimal” impact.

The Cohen Commission concluded that a long-term decline in sockeye salmon runs goes far beyond areas affected by salmon farms, and that aquaculture cannot be the sole answer for the decline.

Sockeye runs have been in decline from Washington state up to the Central Coast, the Skeena and Nass Rivers on the North Coast, the Klukshu in Yukon and the Alsek in Alaska.

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