Federal government plans to move away from open-net pen salmon farming

Fish farms can negatively affect health and population of wild salmon

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The photo is of a red salmon underwater. The fish is swimming in a shallow river above small rocks on the riverbed.
Proboszcz would like to see the farms phased out by 2025. PHOTO: Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington / Flickr

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer

On June 22, Joyce Murray, minister of fisheries, announced the government of Canada has created a transition planning process to phase out fish farms in BC. 

In their press release, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) explained the Discovery Islands fish farm licences have been extended until January 2023. The extension was made to allow the government the ability to fulfill their “commitment to transition from open-net pen salmon aquaculture in BC’s coastal waters in a manner that protects wild salmon.”

The government will be working with First Nations title and rights holders within the industry, which UBCIC hopes will be a “concrete step towards the complete removal of fish farms from BC oceans.”

The Peak spoke to Watershed Watch Salmon Society science advisor, Stan Proboszcz, to learn more about open-net fish farms. 

“I think it’s a reasonable step forward,” Proboszcz said. “It’s the farthest we’ve ever gotten towards removing all salmon farms in BC. We’ve never had a federal government commit to doing that, and now they’ve limited their licenses to two years.”

Fish farms have been shown to have an extremely damaging effect on the natural salmon populations in BC. The farms contribute to the spread of pathogens among wild salmon. “Wild salmon across the board are not doing well,” said Proboszcz. “I think that the management and the oversight of the farms need to be a lot stricter, they have a lot of problems controlling their parasite levels.”

Proboszcz mentioned along with their importance to many Indigenous communities, salmon also play an important role in maintaining the health of local ecosystems. The fisheries manager of the Heiltsuk Nation’s integrated resource management department told The Narwhal the Neekas River saw only 750 salmon return to spawn in 2021, down from an average of 47,000 in 1970.

According to CBC, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will be sharing a framework for the transition within the next couple weeks. After the consultation period, they will release a final plan to phase out 79 open-net pen farms next spring. 

Proboszcz is hopeful about the future of BC’s salmon, noting this announcement will give the natural population a better chance of recovering. “What I would like to see is a staged transition of the farms out, and hopefully they will all be removed by 2025. I hope that next year we will see half the licenses aren’t renewed again,” he said. 

Watershed Watch Salmon Society will be releasing a seasonal forecast monitoring the health of local salmon species. To find it and keep up to date with BC’s salmon populations, you can visit their website or Twitter