Liberal govt issues 4 new salmon farm tenures on eve of BC Day

An existing BC salmon farm (Damien Gillis)
An existing BC salmon farm (Damien Gillis)

It was an unwelcome surprise on the eve of BC Day for critics of open net pen salmon farms: the Liberal government’s quiet doling out of four new tenures to the big three Norwegian aquaculture giants – Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafoods.

While some local First Nations are partners in the deal, others further upstream have openly criticized the move to open new farms in the wake of the largely-ignored Cohen Commission and concerns about the impact of open net pens on wild salmon. A June 1 letter signed by a coalition of 13 Fraser River chiefs implored the BC government to heed Justice Cohen’s findings and refrain from issuing new tenures:

[quote]Given the mounting evidence that fish farms on wild salmon migration routes are a threat to our wild salmon, we are writing you to inform you that the Province of BC must not expand existing farms, offer new licenses of occupation or renew fish farm leases without our consent.[/quote]

Meanwhile, a public petition led by independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton has garnered over 110,000 signatures calling on Premier Christy Clark not to permit any new farms.

First Nations divided on new farms

Despite the strong opposition to the plan, a July 31 media advisory announced that the BC government is following up the recent issuance of federal aquaculture licences with corresponding tenures under the Land Act for two farms near Hope Island, off northern Vancouver Island, one near Tofino, and another in the Broughton Archipelago’s Clio Channel. The two Hope Island tenures went to Marine Harvest, to be operated in partnership with the local Tlatlasikwala First Nation, while Grieg Seafood BC – which has an impact-benefit agreement with the Tlowitsis First Nation – picked up the Clio Channel site, east of Port McNeil. Finally, Cermaq got a new Clayoquot Sound site near Flores Island, where the company has an impact-benefit agreement with the Ahousaht First Nation.

The government explained its role in sanctioning new farms as follows:

[quote]The B.C. government, in its role as landlord, issues Crown land tenures in the form of leases or licences of occupation that allow businesses to operate on provincial Crown land, including water lots and any related activities on shore to ensure any potential impacts on other leases can be managed. As part of the tenure application review process, other agencies, First Nations, local governments and the public are consulted.[/quote]

And yet, many First Nations up the Fraser River clearly feel that they too should be consulted, as many fish affected by diseases and sea lice in the waters off Vancouver Island ultimately make their way through other territories upstream.

“Wild salmon that we have title and rights to are currently being exposed to untreated farmed salmon effluent throughout their migration routes along coastal British Columbia, ” the chiefs noted in their June letter. “Our fishers have witnessed too many pre-spawn deaths, salmon discolored with open sores, too weak to swim upstream and escaped farmed Atlantic salmon.”

BC missing boat on sustainable alternatives

A Kuterra employee shows off one of its land-raised fish (
A Kuterra employee shows off one of its land-raised fish (

For her part, Morton remains dismayed by the what she sees as the same old pattern or government favouring foreign industry over local voices. “Clearly, there’s nothing people can say anymore to stop this industry – not science, not local industry, not chiefs,” Morton said on the phone from the Broughton Archipelago.

“It’s a shame because BC is well-placed to be a global leader in closed-containment salmon farming,” she added, referencing the land-based Kuterra project – a partnership involving the ‘Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay. “Even the Norwegian government is starting to invest millions to develop closed-containment, amidst continued challenges to the ocean-based open net pen industry, such as algae blooms, high water temperatures and disease.”

The Broughton Archipelago has seen a return of major sea lice issues and mega-retailer Costco recently stopped buying Chilean farmed salmon due to the high antibiotic levels required to combat grave bacterial diseases there.

Tenures now long-term

To make matters worse, says Morton, these new tenures are long-term – up to nine years each – instead of the old method whereby they had to be renewed by the government on an annual basis. That means these communities and those affected upstream will face the consequences of these approvals for years to come.

Shrimp fishermen turned down $260,000 payoff

Another group negatively impacted by one of the new farms –  the Clio Channel tenure –  is local wild shrimp fishermen.  Ten of  them were each recently offered a $20,000 payoff by Grieg to go along with the new net pen installation – plus $60,000 to the their collective organization. All of them said, “No,” yet the farm is going ahead regardless.

As Chritopher Pollon explained in his Tyee piece that broke news of the letter:

[quote]The fishermen are opposed to the farms because the two proposed sites occupy some of the best harvesting grounds in the region for wild side-stripe and pink shrimp, which are caught by bottom trawling along a soft-bottomed, underwater prairie unique to the upper reaches of the Channel. It’s also an important harvesting area for spot prawns, an increasingly lucrative “foodie” commodity in B.C. and beyond that are sustainably caught in traps.[/quote]

These shrimp fishermen may not reel in the kind of revenues that a million-fish net pen operation does, but at least they are local businesspeople who supply an in-demand product to BC restaurants and tables, notes Morton.

“What a way to celebrate BC Day,” she quips. “Give away more farms to Norwegian companies who take the money out of our economy and put it in the pockets of their foreign shareholders.”


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

7 thoughts on “Liberal govt issues 4 new salmon farm tenures on eve of BC Day

  1. 12,000,000 plus sockeye went up the Fraser 4 yrs ago….where is the return,where’s the outrage….and where are the bullshit excuses from DFO

  2. “…many First Nations up the Fraser River clearly feel that they too should be consulted”

    Isn’t that a pretty tenuous basis on which to conclude that “first nations” are “divided” on this…? The ones directly, financially, involved in these new fish farm operations are fully on board.

    “Giving away farms to foreign companies”? Looks more like giving them away to the Indian band leaderships…

  3. .>> Reply to “nonconfidencevote”…
    Your non-confidence-vote is spot on. This foreign-owned, dangerous open-net-cage fish-farming industry in our waters have been given carte blanche permission to do as it pleases in our waters, with all levels of government looking the other way. Where is DFO in this situation,you ask? It has become the Destroyer of Fisheries and Oceans ever since the Federal government 30 years ago silently decided this Norwegian industry was welcome here and would be allowed open sesame to destroy our wild fishery….in other words, that our wild salmon were worth more dead—for then their rivers could become culverts to the sea, and our forests loggged to their banks, and our lakes become tailings ponds–thereby to reap personal riches from corporate powers pleased with this situation. We are forced to believe this is the case, for DFO declared in its Aquaculture Action Plan 35 years ago, that “all levels of Ministries and Agencies across the Provinces and Territories shall be engaged in creating the conditions for success for this industry”. And this behaviour has never stopped since, no matter the consequences to our wild salmon that have come of it. And with this betrayal has persisted the most abominable state of secrecy and denial ever to persist in a democracy. It does not matter what the science says, nor the evidence–denial, deflection and cover-up has not ceased. Not in the last 35 years has there been any reprieve from this dire situation. That DFO obscenely gave this industry carte blanche permission to dump all their sea lice poisons, antibiotics, coppper net cleaning pollution, infected-or-not-blood water, treated feed waste and anything else they are using—freely into OUR ocean, our lakes, rivers, and wildlife— shows where it is coming from. Your move to raise funding on the part of justice being done is noble….and I hope it shall gather thunder as it runs. You could hie to, for more information on this subject–she and her tiny band of warriors constitute about the only dedicated science being done out there on behalf of our wild salmon in relation to the presence of these farms in our waters..

  4. ““Even the Norwegian government is starting to invest millions to develop closed-containment, amidst continued challenges to the ocean-based open net pen industry, such as algae blooms, high water temperatures and disease.”

    Soooooooo, the Norwegian companies are being legally hounded out of their own back yards and they come here?

    How much have they contributed to the Liberal campaign fund?

    Where is the Fedral Dept of fisheries on this?

    Time to start a “fund me” campaign for lawyers to crank up a few lawsuits?
    Im in for a $100.

  5. I would like to know how much Norway paid to wipe out the second largest wild salmon commercial fishery in the world… I hope it was lots ,……lot less competition now

  6. The BC Liberals are not concerned with facts or the wishes of the people. They will do what they damn well please because that is who they are. Adversarial is their forte.

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