DFO denies transfer licence for fish farm in Discovery Islands

Another salmon farm operator in B.C. has been denied a transfer licence that would have allowed it to grow out a final cycle of Atlantic salmon in the Discovery Islands.

Cermaq had applied in April for a licence to transfer nearly 1.5 million juvenile Atlantic salmon from its Cecil Island fish farm to two other farm sites in the Discovery Islands, Venture Point and Brent Island. It also asked for an extension of its federal operating licence to February 2023 for those sites.

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But that would exceed the deadline that has been imposed by ministerial order to have all fish farms operating in the Discovery Islands shut down by June 2022, so the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has denied the transfer licence.

In April, Mowi was similarly denied a transfer licence, resulting in the euthanizing of nearly 1 million juvenile salmon and layoffs.

In a written statement, Cermaq said it was too early to say whether the 1.5 million juvenile salmon that now can’t be moved will need to be euthanized, as was the case in April with Mowi.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan has ordered all salmon farms out of the Discovery Islands by June 2022. Initially, she cited the Cohen Commission for the order, as well as opposition from First Nations in the region.

The Cohen Commission, struck in 2010 to investigate the 2009 decline of Fraser River sockeye, noted that salmon farms in the Discovery Islands are in the migration path of Fraser River sockeye, raising concerns that they could be exposed to viruses and pests like sea lice from open-net fish farms.

The commission recommended that the fisheries minister initiate a phase-out of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30, 2020, “unless he or she is satisfied that such farms pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.”

Last year, after a review of all the literature on fish pathogens, DFO concluded that salmon farms posed a minimal risk to wild salmon.

Jordan is now citing “social acceptability” as the reason for continuing the phase-out of salmon farms in the region. That region hosts roughly one-quarter of the salmon farms in B.C. Many of the First Nations in that region have long opposed open-net salmon farming.

In a statement released Wednesday, Cermaq said it was disappointed with the decision, as it will not allow for the “humane” grow-out of the final cycle of fish.

“The federal government is also sending mixed signals to an industry — deemed as essential during the pandemic — in terms of business certainty, the importance of building a strong and resilient blue economy and supporting coastal communities through economic development and opportunity.”

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