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19 Fraser River salmon farms ordered to close

The British Columbian Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan stunned campaigners this December when she announced that all open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, which lie between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island will be phased out by June 2022.

The farms have always been contentious, with First Nations in the area campaigning that the farms have contribute to the collapse of wild Fraser River salmon stocks, due to sea lice and other diseases transferring from the captive fish to wild, migratory stocks. Fraser River wild salmon runs were once legendary, but returns are currently at a historic low.

Minister Jordan said all 19 farms have to be free of fish by June 30, 2022, when their renewed 18-month licences expire, and that no new fish can be brought in.
"We heard overwhelmingly from First Nations in the area that they do not want these fish farms there," she said. "They feel that they should have a say in their territorial waters, and I absolutely agree with them," she said.

Now, it is expected that 80% of the farmed fish will be gone by April 2021, protecting the next migration of Fraser River smolts heading out to sea, and the mass closure will trigger efforts to grow salmon on land-based closed-contained units.

"I was not expecting this", said veteran anti-salmon farm campaigner, Alexandra Morton, who qualified her statement by adding, "There has not been a decision on the side of wild salmon ever with the salmon farming industry".

"This is the moment when the decline of the Fraser River sockeye is going to turn round", she concluded.

All tenancies for the 130 fish farms in British Columbia are granted through government licences. From June 2022, the British Columbian government has stipulated that all aquaculture licences will have to be approved by local First Nations. The process for phasing out the remaining farms will begin consultation in early 2021.

"I am committed to working with all involved parties; the First Nations, industry and the Province of British Columbia, over the next 18 months to ensure a fair and orderly transition process that phases out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands", said the Fisheries Minister.

[As appeared in the February 2021 News section of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine]

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