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Federal Court Denies Cermaq Right to Transfer Smolts

Federal Court denies injunction to fish farm to transfer Atlantic salmon to B.C.’s Discovery Islands. A coalition of environmental groups that intervened in the case welcomed the decision while Cermaq says it is disappointed and was blindsided by the government.

B.C.’s Federal Court has denied an injunction from fish farm company Cermaq, which would have allowed the company to transfer a final batch of Atlantic salmon into pens in B.C.’s Discovery Islands.

On Jan. 18, several fish farms, including Cermaq, filed applications challenging the 2020 decision of the federal government to phase out existing salmon farms in the Discovery Islands and to prohibit the transfer of live fish into saltwater sites during the phase-out period.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan announced in December 2020 that 19 fish farms in the area would be phased out by July 2022 and that no new fish could be transferred to the farms in the interim.

The government made the decision after consulting with seven local First Nations opposed to the farms. The federal government is committed to working with the industry on a “fair” transition to sustainable aquaculture, she said.

Cermaq filed an injunction request seeking to stop the government from phasing out existing salmon-farming facilities in the Discovery Islands because it prohibits the transfer of fish into two of Cermaq’s aquaculture sites during the 18-month phase out period.

A coalition of conservation groups intervened, and in a July 2 decision, the Federal Court stood by the minister’s decision and dismissed the injunction request.

Cermaq issued a statement Tuesday saying it was “disappointed” with the courts decision to dismiss the injunction it had filed in hopes to be able to complete one last transfer of mature smolts to its Brent Island and Venture Point farms.

Cermaq Canada managing director David Kiemele said they’re perplexed by the decision from the federal government, adding that farm-raised salmon supports its goals of food security, reconciliation and helping Canada reach carbon targets.

“We are also surprised to see that the minister has ignored her departments advice in favour of what we can only assume is a politically driven agenda. Her recent decision to revoke 60 per cent of commercial fishing licences in B.C. — again blindsiding the commercial fishers in their own words — shows her lack of understanding of rural coastal communities, First Nations rights and the reconciliation process, and the role that all seafood needs to play in order to support a growing global population,” Kiemele said in a statement.

Court documents show that DFO staff reviewed Cermaq’s request for two final introduction and transfer permits, and recommended that Jordan approve the applications. Kiemele contends that Cermaq was “blindsided” and deemed unimportant for political gain, and that many jobs will be lost.

Kiemele said Cermaq has been working with the Wei Wai Kum Nation, in whose territory both the farms are located. In April, the Wei Wai Kum council voted unanimously to support a deal between the Nation and Cermaq. The agreement would have allowed for shared wild salmon conservation initiatives, an economic transition, capacity building, the creation of a guardian program and knowledge-sharing, he said.

Meantime, Ecojustice, an environmental law group involved in fighting the injunction, welcomed the decision as “an essential step in protecting wild salmon populations and an eventual phase-out of open-net fish farming in the area.”

On behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Living Oceans Society, Watershed Watch and independent biologist Alexandra Morton, Ecojustice lawyers appeared in court June 28 to argue against the injunction, saying that allowing Cermaq to transfer more fish into pens in the islands would put wild salmon at increased risk.

“Ecojustice clients applaud the Federal Court’s decision to deny Cermaq’s injunction request and support Minister Jordan’s phase-out order. Fish-farming companies may say the phase-out doesn’t give them enough time to plan for the future — but wild salmon can’t wait,” said Margot Venton, lawyer and nature program director at Ecojustice.

“Many First Nations and scientists have raised concerns about the link between aquaculture and a steep decline in wild salmon populations. Open-net fish farms expose migrating wild salmon to contagious diseases, viruses and parasites. Since the release of the Cohen Commission’s final report, fish farm companies have had more than eight years to prepare for this transition away from open-net pens.”

Cermaq Canada sustainable development director Linda Sams said that in the coming days they’ll be looking at the decision as well as reaching out to the Wei Wai Kum Nation to determine how they can support them.

“Overall, this is a sad day for us as an organization, for our employees and the local communities who rely on local industry such as salmon farming. It is also a blow to First Nations and their struggle to assert self-determination and to have their rights recognized within their own territories,” Sams said.