Temporary reprieve for Discovery Islands farmed salmon

Federal Court judge grants injunction, allows fish farms to apply for transfer licences

Close to 1 million smolts were already euthanized as a result of Mowi Canada not being able to get a transfer licence. | Submitted

Mowi Canada has won at least a temporary reprieve from a order preventing the company from stocking two open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

A Federal Court judge has granted an injunction that Mowi Canada and three other salmon farming companies sought against an order by federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan, who refused to allow fish transfer licences and ordered all salmon farms out of the Discovery Islands by the end of June 2022.

The companies must still apply for transfer licences to move fish from one site to another. Jordan's decision had essentially precluded the transfer licences from being considered.

Basically,transfer licences must now be considered, and as long as the usual regulatory requirements are met, which includes a fish health assessment conducted by a veterinarian, there should no reason for the minister to refuse them.

"We would expect that the minister would give proper consideration to the injunction, review the objective fish health criteria as outlined in Section 56  and grant the transfer licenses," said Dean Dobrinsky, Mowi Canada’s director of HR and communications.  "But ultimately the decision rests with her."

First Nations opposed to salmon farming in the area say the injunction does not automatically mean the fish transfers have to be approved.

"Mr. Justic Pamel's order does not mean those fish farms can now be stocked," Chief Darren Blaney, chief of the Homalco First Nation, said in a press release. "Instead, the minister must now consider applications for licences to stock those farms as if she had not made her December 17, 2020 decision."

He added First Nations have to consulted as part of the process.

Jordan's order to phase out fish farms in the Discovery Islands applies to about 30% of Mowi Canada's operation in B.C., and would have a financial impact of close to $200 million. It also affects the operations of a smaller operator, Saltstream, which has a single salmon farm in the area.

"While aquaculture in the Discovery Islands may pose a risk to wild salmon populations generally, it has not been established that the risk from allowing the transfer of fish into three sites is great enough to weigh against granting the injunction," Justice Peter George Pamel says in his decision.

"The harm to Mowi and Saltstream, as well as their employees, their families and other businesses in the community, in particular First Nations businesses, will be real and substantial if the injunction is not granted."

“Our Federal Court application for judicial review of the Minister’s December 17, 2020, order to not renew our licenses for Hardwicke, Philips Arm, and other sites in the Discovery Islands area continues,” Diane Morrison, Mowi Canada’s managing director, said in a written statement. “But for now we do not have to cull any more fish and dozens of jobs are secure for at least a while longer.”

In December, when considering an application to renew expiring federal licences, Jordan ordered that the licences would be renewed only until the end of June 2022, at which point all salmon farms would need to be out of the Discovery Islands. But her decision also precluded the transfer of salmon between sites, and it was this provision that was subject of the injunction.

Mowi is part of a judicial review appealing Jordan's order. In the meantime, Mowi Canada and three other companies sought an injunction, arguing that without transfer licences, juvenile salmon could not be transferred from nurseries to other open-net farm sites in the Discovery Islands to be able to be grown out to maturity.

Farmed salmon are grown in freshwater hatcheries, then transferred to open-net nurseries after about one year, and then are often also transferred again to other open-net pen sites until they reach harvest size. Each transfer requires federal approval.

Jordan's refusal to consider fish transfers left younger salmon in various stages of growth with nowhere to go. Mowi has already had to euthanize more than 900,000 juvenile salmon as a result of the order. Another 1.1 million would have had to be euthanized, had the injunction not been granted, Dobrinsky said..

"In effect, the minster has to turn back the clock to before December 17," Dobrinsky told BIV News.

Dobrinsky said the injunction means Mowi should be able to stock two fish farms -- Phillips Arm and Hardwicke. It doesn't mean the Discovery Island salmon farms can continue past 2022, however, unless Mowi Canada also wins a judicial review against that decision.

"It allows us to grow out the salmon at the two sites in the Discovery Islands," Dobrinksy said.

(This story, posted Monday night, April 5, has been updated with additional comments from industry and First Nations.)