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Federal government decision expected on controversial B.C. fish farms

OTTAWA — The federal government is expected to announce the way forward for fish farms along British Columbia’s coast.

The ocean-pen aquaculture operations have been a flashpoint between First Nations, the industry, wild salmon advocates and environmentalists for several years.

Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier will make the announcement in Ottawa this afternoon, while Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is expected to make the same announcement in Vancouver.

Lebouthillier has been consulting with Indigenous leaders, industry stakeholders and coastal communities about the government’s transition plan involving 79 salmon farms after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged during the 2019 election that his government would phase out ocean-pen farms.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association has said an economic analysis concluded the province could lose about 4,700 jobs and more than $1 billion in annual economic activity if the fish farm licences are not renewed.

Former fisheries minister Joyce Murray announced in 2023 that the government wasn’t renewing the licences for 15 Atlantic salmon farms off the Discovery Islands of northwestern Vancouver Island, a major migration route for wild salmon.

Murray said then that wild salmon face multiple threats, including climate change, habitat degradation and overfishing, and the decision was meant to reduce the challenges for wild salmon that swim past the farms.

Opponents worry that open-net salmon farms can spread disease or lice to wild fish, while supporters say the risks are low.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press