Minister Signals End to Open Net-Pen Feedlots in British Columbia

On June 22, 2022, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard announced two major decisions that could signal the end of open net-pen feedlots in British Columbia.

First, the Minister will only renew aquaculture licences for two years, not six years as wanted by industry licensees, and begin consulting with First Nations on the future of the industry.

Second, the Minister will not renew the aquaculture licences for 15 open net-pen feedlots in the Discovery Islands pending consultations with First Nations and licensees that are expected to run until early 2023. The Minister’s decision regarding the Discovery Islands licences responds to the Federal Court’s April 2022 decision.

First Nations in British Columbia will soon have the opportunity to consult with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on the fate of open-pen fish farms operating in B.C.’s coastal waters.

The DFO announced it was launching a consultation with First Nations and other stakeholders on a plan to phase out open-pen fish farms operating in the province by the year 2025. The consultation will run through December, with a finalized plan expected next spring.

The DFO is also consulting with First Nations and fish farmers on the future of open-pen fish farms operating near B.C.’s Discovery Islands, with a final decision on those feedlots expected early next year.

While the consultations are underway, the licences for open-pen facilities operating near the Discovery Islands will not be renewed. Other fish farms will have their licences renewed for two years and face “standardized reporting requirements and sea lice management plans, as well as wild salmon monitoring,” according to a DFO release.

In April, First Nations in B.C. learned that the DFO had been covering up research warning that Atlantic salmon in open-pen feedlots were spreading a lethal virus to wild Pacific salmon populations. The DFO had kept the research secret for close to a decade.

The DFO is making capacity funding available to Indigenous peoples interested in participating in the consultation process. Funding of up to $25,000 is available per applicant, and Indigenous organizations working with multiple Nations may receive more than $25,000. You can learn more by emailing the DFO.

MLT Aikins has extensive experience working with First Nations and other groups to protect B.C.’s wild salmon populations. In 2019, Vancouver lawyer Sean Jones represented ‘Namgis First Nation in a judicial review that found the DFO erred in its decision not to test Atlantic salmon for Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) and breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis on the matter. Earlier this year, Sean and Katie Bellett acted for Wild First, which succeeded in obtaining a copy of the DFO’s secret report on PRV.

If you are interested in learning more about your opportunity to consult with the DFO and accessing capacity funding, we encourage you to contact a member of our Indigenous practice group.