Aquaculture North America

B.C.’s net-pen farms phase-out a ‘done deal’: Atkinson

June 1, 2023
By Mari-Len De Guzman

Steve Atkinson

The federal government’s push to phase out open net-pen salmon farms in British Columbia is based on political motivations, not science, according to Steve Atkinson, a veteran B.C. salmon farmer.

“The key term that you hear now from the government, from the minister, is ‘precautionary principle.’ And that precautionary principle is a synonym for science doesn’t matter,” Atkinson said in an interview on the podcast, Salmon Farming: Inside and Out.

A pioneer in land-based salmon farming using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), Atkinson is the founder of Taste of B.C. Aquafarms, which grows steelhead salmon exclusively on land. Although a proponent of RAS farming, Atkinson has always maintained the salmon aquaculture industry should be a combination of ocean-based and land-based farming.

In July 2022, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the federal body overseeing aquaculture in British Columbia, launched a consultation process and discussion framework to “guide engagement on the development of an open net-pen transition plan.” As part of the committee participating in this consultation process, Atkinson said he believes the decisions about the fate of salmon farming in B.C. are coming directly from the office of the Prime Minister and not the department minister.

“I’ve got to think there’s an awful lot of money behind the environmental movement that is swaying decisions at the office of the Prime Minister, and that’s where the decision is being made.

“It’s a decision of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). And it’s a political decision,” Atkinson said.

The veteran land-based farmer cautioned that rushing to completely dismantle open net-pen farms in favour of RAS-based salmon farming can have serious consequences to an entire seafood value chain.

“I have regular discussions with the minister and the minister’s office. And I have been very clear to them that there is not an opportunity at present to convert 100,000 tonnes of salmon production to land-based,” Atkinson said. 

“One of the dangers that I see in transitioning too quickly is… we have a huge infrastructure network based on ocean net-pen salmon farms – distribution channels, feed mills, technical support, engineering, all of those things – that if they move without an industry developed on land, then they’re going to cut the legs off from beneath us.” 


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Still, Atkinson added, he believes the decision to phase out open net-pen farming is “a done deal.”

“They’re going to phase out the licences quickly, and it’s going to be in the hands of First Nations.”

Following the phased consultation that began last year, the government’s open net-pen transition plan is expected to be finalized by June 2023. 

Click here to listen to the full conversation.



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