Farming news

Canada bans open net-pen salmon farms in British Columbia by 2029

The government is extending five years the deadline to move away from salmon net-pen farms.

Credits: Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance
June 20, 2024

This week, the government of Canada announced that it will ban open net-pen salmon aquaculture in British Columbia coastal waters by June 30, 2029. The move aims to “protect wild salmon and promote more sustainable aquaculture practices.”

A number of First Nations, coastal communities, and others in British Columbia rely on open net-pen aquaculture for their livelihood and prosperity for which the government of Canada will release a draft salmon aquaculture transition plan by the end of July. “Over the coming months, federal departments, as part of a whole-of-government effort, will engage with those directly and indirectly affected by this transition to discuss how best to support them,” the government said.

Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, also announced her intention to renew salmon aquaculture licenses for five years. Effective July 1, 2024, these licenses will come with stricter conditions to ensure improved management of sea lice on farmed fish, robust reporting requirements for industry, and additional monitoring of marine mammal interactions.

After July 1, 2024, only marine or land-based closed-containment systems will be considered for salmon aquaculture licenses in coastal British Columbia. The government of Canada recognizes that such systems are likely to come with increased investment costs. To provide greater predictability, Minister Lebouthillier also announced her intention to issue nine-year licenses to successful closed-containment production applicants.

“The government is firmly committed to taking concrete steps to protect wild Pacific salmon. Today, I'm announcing the essence of a responsible, realistic, and achievable transition that ensures the protection of wild species, food security and the vital economic development of British Columbia's First Nations, coastal communities and others, as we keep working towards a final transition plan by 2025,” Lebouthillier.

Industry reaction

In a statement, aquaculture suppliers, from feed to equipment and genetics suppliers, said that the announcement does not meet the government’s commitment to a “responsible” plan as it will negatively impact thousands of Canadians.

“Our sector supports thousands of skilled British Columbia workers, including the youngest agri-food workforce in Canada. Our workers only a few years ago were called ‘essential’ for Canada by your government.”

“There are over 1,000 distinct supply companies involved in British Columbia salmon farming. Many of these also service Atlantic Canada and rely on a strong sector to grow Canadian jobs across Canada. British Columbia’s historically largest agricultural export touches so many people’s lives: farming and food production, including food retail and service, health companies, food banks, food processors, local auto dealers, feed manufacturers, and grain growers, just to name a few. Canadian salmon feed companies purchase close to $150 million annually from Canadian grain and protein suppliers, supporting a circular economy with the potential for significant value-added growth.”

“It is critical that current net pen farms remain because of the foundational supply chain infrastructure and investment ecosystem that they support. The success of introducing innovative technologies in British Columbia relies on this investment and supply ecosystem being strong, stable and predictable. The absence of certainty and clarity has already weakened capital investment. Further closures could jeopardize the viability of the current production and supply chain, which will also jeopardize the industry’s investment in our technologies in British Columbia.”

A responsible path will work towards improvement in the current net pen sector while also building and developing new technologies. This will take time and needs a reasonable incremental approach. This policy announced today must be revisited and we call on all British Columbians and Canadians to support us in calling for this government to choose a balanced pathway,” the statement concluded.

According to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, production of salmon in Canada has flatlined for twenty years and then declined since 2020 due to government decisions in British Columbia. Salmon farming production reached a peak of 148,000 metric tonnes in 2016, but in 2023, only 90,000 tonnes were produced. Over 95% of Canada’s salmon production is from salmon farms. Almost 100% of this farm-raised production is from ocean pens. In British Columbia, 100% of the production is under agreement with First Nations in whose territories the farms operate.