BC announces landmark changes in salmon farm licensing policy
British Columbia salmon farmers say they have not been consulted on policy changes governing applications for new fish farm licenses or renewal of expiring leases.
On Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham announced that beginning June 2022, applications for new or renewal of fish farm licences in British Columbia will have to meet two new criteria before the province approves them: consent from local First Nations that own the territories and a stipulation from the federal Fisheries Department that the farm won’t endanger BC wild salmon.
“We have just received this decision and are still reviewing it,” said BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) spokesperson Shawn Hall. “The change in consultation requirements appears to be significant. We haven’t been involved in discussions about this change nor asked for any feedback on how it might impact our members, so [we] need some time to consider it before commenting further.”
Marine Harvest Canada, which holds 55 licensed ocean salmon farms in BC and is a member of BCSFA, also said it was not consulted. “We were not asked for our opinion before this policy was developed, nor were we asked for our feedback on the impacts to our business,” said Managing Director Vincent Erenst.
More questions than answers
The requirement to acquire First Nations approval as a condition before the province approves new tenure applications or renewal is unclear. How is consent defined and who has to give consent is ambiguous — is it the hereditary chief or the elected chief? And what if one band says yes and others say no?
“Right now we are working with the word ‘agreement.’ And so, as far as the technical details around that, I think we're going to have to see how that works and that's why we have this four-year transition time,” Popham said.
She denied the new policy effectively gives some First Nations veto power over fish farm tenures. “There is no veto. We're looking at this as a framework to reach agreements. Agreements have been made with First Nations and fish farm operators in the past. They are existing right now. So we've set forward a framework for those discussions to happen,” she said.
A media member pressed on: “If the salmon farm operation does not have First Nations approval in 2022, they'll potentially vacate or be evicted, how is that not a veto?”
Popham replied: “I think that if there is an agreement that's on the table between First Nations and a fish farm operator, they both have the opportunity to say no to that agreement.”
What also is unclear is how the new policy will change the way Fisheries Oceans Canada (DFO) administers licenses for fish farms. Current fish farms in BC hold tenures issued by DFO, which means these farms are already meeting DFO standards.
“The DFO must look at the farm site from an environmental lens…I think we've seen over the last while [some] reports, such as the audit, that showed that may not have been the lens that they were using,” Popham said.
On the issue of transitioning ocean-based salmon farms to land-based operations, Popham said her office supports “taking a very serious look at technology” to make that happen.
“I think up to this point, we haven't been really feeling the pressure to do that, and I think this will force that to happen. There's a lot of technology around the world that a lot of jurisdictions that are trying to move in that direction. But, there's other options that we might look at as well to help ensure that we have a healthy wild salmon stock. Alaska's using salmon ranching. So, there's a lot of things that we can take a look at, but now we've got a framework to do that in.”
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