Canada announces open-net pen salmon farming ban in BC

Canada has announced that it will ban open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia coastal waters within the next five years. This decision has been praised by environmental groups but criticized by the aquaculture industry.

The Liberal government decided in 2019 to transition to closed containment technologies to protect the declining populations of wild Pacific salmon. Jonathan Wilkinson, the natural resources minister, stated, “Today, we are delivering on that promise and taking an important step in Canada’s path towards salmon and environmental conservation, sustainable aquaculture production, and clean technology.”

British Columbia hosts dozens of salmon farms, yet over half of its wild salmon populations are in decline, according to the Pacific Salmon Foundation. The BC Salmon Farmers Association argued that the ban could jeopardize up to 6,000 jobs and negatively impact an industry contributing C$1.2 billion (US$880 million) to the provincial economy. The association’s executive director, Brian Kingzet, remarked, “The idea that 70,000 tonnes of BC salmon can be produced on land in five years is unrealistic and ignores the current capabilities of modern salmon farming technology, as it has not been done successfully to scale anywhere in the world.”

The government plans to release a strategy by the end of the month detailing support for First Nations, industry workers, and communities dependent on open-net aquaculture. Wilkinson emphasized the need for “meaningful and thoughtful engagement with First Nations partners and communities” to mitigate economic impacts.

Salmon, which spawn in freshwater and spend much of their adult life in the ocean, present challenges for closed containment operations, which are more expensive than open-net pens. Environmentalists argue that open-net salmon farms spread diseases that harm wild salmon populations. Stan Proboszcz from the Watershed Watch Salmon Society stated, “There’s a large body of science that shows that they amplify parasites, viruses and bacteria right on the wild salmon migration routes and spread them to wild fish. Many of our stocks are in decline. So let’s take [open-net farms] out and give wild salmon a bit of a relief.”

Proboszcz also called for the announcement to be enshrined in law to prevent potential reversal if the government changes next year. Public opinion polls indicate that most British Columbia residents support ending open-net salmon farming, with over 120 First Nations in the province backing land-based closed containment fish farms.

The First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance welcomed the government’s decision. Its chairman, Bob Chamberlin, said, “This date will serve the longer-term needs of protecting wild Pacific salmon from the impacts of the open-net pen fish farm industry, and is a positive step in that regard.”

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