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Injunction seeking to restock two Discovery Island fish farms fails in federal court

Cermaq Canada says it is disappointed by the decision
The islands and channels of the Discovery Islands/Vancouver Island area are surrounded by peaks and mountains. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

The federal court has dismissed an injunction Cermaq Canada filed in order to complete one last transfer of Atlantic salmon to its Brent Island and Venture point salmon farms.

In a statement issued July 6, Cermaq Canada said it is disappointed in the decision and disheartened by the discovery made during the injunction process that Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan decided to ignore the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ support of the transfer request.

“As an organization, we are perplexed by the decision from Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Bernadette Jordan as salmon farming itself is in support of so many of both her, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s goals for the country – from supporting wild salmon, to the creation of a strong Blue Economy, creating food security, furthering reconciliation, and helping Canada reach it carbon targets. We know that farm-raised salmon can help support all of those efforts,” Cermaq Canada Managing Director David Kiemele says. “We are also surprised to see that the Minister has ignored her departments advice in favour of what we can only assume is a politically-driven agenda. Her recent decision to revoke 60 per cent of commercial fishing licenses in B.C. – again blindsiding the commercial fishers in their own words – shows her lack of understanding of rural coastal communities, First Nations rights and the reconciliation process, and the role that all seafood needs to play in order to support a growing global population.”

Documents obtained through the court process show that DFO staff reviewed Cermaq’s request for two final Introduction and Transfer permits, and based on existing criteria and DFO’s own science, research and opinion, recommended that Minister Jordan approve the applications. Minister Jordan ignored this recommendation.

“Initially, we had believed that the Liberal government of Canada was one which built on the principals of inclusivity and was led by a belief and trust in Canadian-led research and science, as well as fundamental support for further truth and reconciliation in Canada. From where we stand today, it appears that the decisions coming from both Ottawa and Nova Scotia are not in fact supportive of these positions but are instead aimed at securing urban Liberal votes. Once again, a hardworking sector is blindsided and deemed unimportant in the face of an upcoming election,” Kiemele says. “The inability of Minister Jordan to provide an adequate statement as to why she has denied our requests, to us, points to motives outside of science and social license and likely towards securing urban votes as we head into an anticipated late-summer election.”

These documents are available as they are part of the official court record, Cermaq says. Included with a media release was the internal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) document, in which senior DFO leaders recommended that Minister Jordan approve the Introduction and Transfer permit and approve the requested extension.

The company says this decision will have long-reaching social and financial implications for employees, North Vancouver Island’s small rural economy and dozens of local, independent suppliers, contractors, businesses, and service providers.

Cermaq Canada had been working with the Wei Wai Kum Nation – in whose territory both the farms are located. In April, the Wei Wai Kum Council voted unanimously to support an agreement between the Nation and Cermaq. The agreement would have allowed for shared wild salmon conservation initiatives, an economic transition, capacity building, the creation of a Guardian program (Nation oversight of Cermaq’s operations in its territory), and knowledge sharing. Cermaq says it will continue to work with the Wei Wai Kum Nation through a reconciliation process.

RELATED: Cermaq takes legal action against DFO to challenge licence denials

Environmental organizations, meanwhile, praised the court’s decision.

In response to the July 2 decision, the Executive Director of Georgia Strait Alliance Christianne Wilhelmson says, “Today’s dismissal of the injunction is a lifeline to struggling and migrating wild salmon and also a re-commitment to respecting First Nations’ concerns and leadership as the stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial.

“Minister Jordan’s decision to immediately phase out Discovery Islands fish farms was based on consultation with First Nations in the area, concerned about the impacts of open-net farming within their traditional territories, and also on current science and the status of wild Pacific salmon stocks.

“The Minister’s decision has now been upheld in a federal court several times. It is time for the aquaculture industry to get serious about transitioning fish farms from open net-pens to closed containment facilities on land, which don’t use marine ecosystems to dispose of waste and parasites or sidestep reconciliation with First Nations, but will instead revive the local salmon economy.”

In March of this year, Georgia Strait Alliance was one of a group of environmental organizations and fish farm opponent, Alexandra Morton, represented by Ecojustice, intervened in the judicial review, arguing that aquaculture companies should not be allowed to transfer farmed fish into Discovery Islands fish farms, all of which are set to shutter by June 2022.

In the coming months, Ecojustice and its clients will intervene again to support Minister Jordan’s order to phase out all fish farms in the Discovery Islands by June 2022, which Cermaq and other fisheries are challenging in a separate judicial review.

Margot Venton, lawyer and nature program director at Ecojustice, said, “Ecojustice clients applaud the federal court’s decision to deny Cermaq’s injunction request and support Minister’s Jordan’s phase-out order. Fish farming companies may say the phase-out doesn’t give them enough time to plan for the future – but wild salmon can’t wait.”

RELATED: Discovery Island fish farms not allowed to restock


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Alistair Taylor

About the Author: Alistair Taylor

I have been editor of the Campbell River Mirror since 1989. Our team takes great pride in serving our community.
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