VICTORIA, B.C- New rules are on the way for fish farms in British Columbia.
According to an announcement from the provincial government, the rules will be taking effect in June of 2022.
By that month, tenures will only be granted to fish farm operators who have satisfied Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that their operations will not “adversely impact” wild salmon, and have negotiated agreements with First Nations in whose territory they’re working in.
“The challenges facing our wild salmon have been ignored for far too long,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, in a news release.
“That’s why we are putting in place a new approach to provide clarity and outline our expectations moving forward for a sustainable industry that protects wild salmon, embraces reconciliation, and provides good jobs.”
The rules come after a court ruling back in 2009, which found that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over fisheries, including fish farm operations.
“We will look to DFO to bring the best science to determining where and under what conditions open-pen fish farms can operate without threatening wild salmon and other species,” Popham said.
The four-year timeframe was chosen to line up with the current renewal dates included in the majority of current fish licenses issued by the DFO.
“Operations with expired provincial tenures, or tenures that expire before June 2022, may operate with month-to-month tenures,” read the release.
“In addition to aligning with the expiry date of the majority of federal fish licences, the Province will give notice of the change in expectations to fish farm operators. This will give operators time to adapt their operations to requirements established by DFO, strengthen their relationships with First Nations, and make investment decisions.”
Discussions between the provincial government and First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago are ongoing, and the province stated that today’s announcement does not pre-determine the outcome of those discussions.
The provincial Land Act tenures have expiry dates as follows:
* 20 will expire in 2018 (17%)
* Five will expire between 2019 and 2022 (4%)
* 26 will expire between 2023 and 2030 (26%)
* 38 will expire between 2031 and 2035 (32%)
* Five will expire between 2035 and 2046 (4%)
* 26 are currently on a month-to-month basis (22%)
According to Karen Wristen, a spokesperson for Living Oceans, the decision was a positive move when it came to First Nation’s rights.
However, the timeline was concerning, and she considered the decision to have the DFO and First Nations decide on farms a “punt” by the province.
“All wild salmon are at risk right now,” said Wristen.
“There are out-migrating juveniles that are being exposed to predation and lice and disease from these farms. If we leave it for another four years, that means absolutely every run of salmon in the province is going to be experiencing another encounter with these pathogens from the farms, and stocks just can’t take it.”
She did believe that more change could happen, and the Broughton Archipelago was a good place for it.
“The main step forward here is the recognition of First Nations rights, and the steps towards reconciliation,” said Wristen.
“I don’t want to minimize how positive a move that is. But the timing remains a big concern.”