Writing on the wall for West Coast fish farms, conservationists say after closures

Open cage fish farming along the Pacific coast has taken a hit or two this week after British Columbia and Washington state announced closures of operations.

Aquaculture giant Grieg Seafood will remove salmon farms from waters off the country’s Sunshine Coast of British Columbia by February 2023, the shishalh Nation said Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said Monday that it will not renew open net pen leases and farm operations at Puget Sound, Cooke Seafood’s last two farms in Atlantic Canada, which will end on Dec. 14.

Wild salmon conservationists are celebrating both decisions, calling the opening of pen fish farms and a victory for Aboriginal rights and Aboriginal food security written on the wall.

Stan Proboszcz, a senior scientist with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said both decisions significantly benefit wild salmon, which are at increased risk of sea lice and diseases that are amplified by open net fish farms in the ocean.

Proboszcz said this week’s closures, combined with the previous phase-out of salmon farms in British Columbia’s Discovery and Broughton Islands regions, show a domino effect is happening.

“It’s kind of weird,” he said.

“This puts a lot of pressure on our federal government to follow through on its commitment to remove the remaining open pens on British Columbia salmon farms by 2025.”

It also means British Columbia is the last bastion of open net fish farming on North America’s Pacific coast, he said.

Cooke Seafood is the only commercial open net pen operator in Washington waters.

The DNR’s decision effectively means Washington joins Alaska, California and Oregon in countries that either don’t have or don’t allow industrial fish farms.

hiwus (chief) Warren Paull said the shishalh has long been concerned about the impact of fish farms on British Columbia’s dwindling wild population and national way of life.

He said the shishalh waters were the center of the province’s infancy in salmon farming in the 1980s.

“There are fewer farms now, but our concerns remain. Shishalh has worked tirelessly to restore salmon populations and protect fish habitat,” Ball said in a statement.

“Preserving this precious resource for future generations has always been our top priority.”

The state relies on the precautionary principle, consistent with shishah laws and responsibilities, to make decisions, protect resources and ensure the long-term sustainability of fisheries, the statement said.

“We commend Grieg Seafoods for working with shishalh Nation through the decision-making process,” Paull said, adding that consent-based decision-making is an aspect of implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

In a statement, the company said Grieg Seafood supports Indigenous peoples in the territories in which it operates, including recognizing the right of Indigenous peoples to decide for themselves what aquaculture development they choose for their country.

Greig holds eight fish farm licenses in the shishalh area, six of the farms are out of business as they are older, smaller sites that are difficult to farm due to warmer water temperatures and higher salinity, which increases sea lice quantity.

Harvesting has been completed on the two remaining farms in the region, the company said, while other sites have been demolished and the remaining ones will be decommissioned early next year.

The refusal to renew Cook’s Seafood’s license to raise rainbow trout is a critical step in supporting Washington waters, fishermen, tribes and wild salmon, the state’s Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said in a statement Monday. , everyone is desperately trying to save.

Steve Edwards, president of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said the removal of the fish farm would restore full access to culturally important fishing areas north of Skagit Sound.

“Cook’s web pen has interfered with our exercise of our treaty rights for far too long. We look forward to the day when the Hope Island web pen facility is a distant memory,” Edwards said.

The announcement ends a saga with Cooke Seafood that began in August 2017 when hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from the company’s Cypress Island site into the Salish Sea, Franz said.

Cook was fined $332,000 and found negligent by the state Department of Ecology. In 2018, Washington passed a law phasing out open pen farming of non-native fish, but Cooke responded by switching to raising steelhead.

Ultimately, the DNR refused to renew the company’s license after finding its operations posed a risk of environmental harm to state-owned waters. But in the meantime, the company “fighted us every step of the way,” Franz said.

Bob Chamberlin, president of the Aboriginal Wild Salmon Alliance of British Columbia, said it was great to see the Washington state government meaningfully respond to Aboriginal concerns and recognize the need to protect food security and treaty rights.

“I would like the Government of Canada, and in particular Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, to take note of this decision,” Chamberlin said.

“They’re using it as a very clear example of what needs to be done to take care of BC’s historically low top salmon population.”

He said shishalh’s decision recognized the importance of the precautionary principle in protecting salmon, an important resource and a link between the coast and the inland.

Activist and biologist Alexandra Morton says the imminent relocation of fish farms is pushing open mesh pens to fewer and fewer places along the BC coast, making production more vulnerable to algal blooms, disease or potentially killing the fish farms. Effects of warm water on fish.

She added that, given that the British Columbia government now requires First Nations approval before renewing the fish farm’s tenure, it is doubtful whether Grieg would have had any other option than to respect the shishalh’s wishes to vacate the territory.

“I’m shocked that the salmon farming industry hasn’t seen the writing on the wall,” Morton said.

Companies could benefit from public and private support and investment if the industry recognizes it is time to move to land-based closed containment, she said, adding that other infrastructure such as hatcheries, processing plants and transport would remain in place.

“But no one is going to invest in closed containment if cheap and dirty open-mesh farms are still happening.”

Neither Grieg Seafood nor the BC Salmon Farmers Association responded to questions from the Canadian National Observer, and no one was interviewed.

The company statement said Grieg’s exit from Shishar territory was in line with the development of a site well suited for salmon farming, with the additional objective of improving the environmental footprint of the operation and fish welfare while reducing costs.

The changes will not result in job losses, nor will Grieg’s total harvest target be affected.

The aquaculture company is concerned about the decline in wild salmon populations and is developing new farming techniques to reduce interactions between farmed and wild fish, the Grieg statement said.

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