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Canada to ban open-net salmon farms in B.C. waters by 2029

REUTERS/CHRIS HELGREN / 2023
                                A migrating salmon fights a fisherman’s hook in the Chilliwack River’s Vedder Canal in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.
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REUTERS/CHRIS HELGREN / 2023

A migrating salmon fights a fisherman’s hook in the Chilliwack River’s Vedder Canal in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Canada will ban open-net salmon farms off the coast of British Columbia by the middle of 2029 to help protect dwindling wild Pacific salmon populations, the federal government said on Wednesday.

Salmon are a culturally and ecologically significant species on Canada’s west coast, but more than half of the 9,000 distinct populations in British Columbia are in a state of decline, according to the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

British Columbia has dozens of open-net salmon farms, which campaigners say can spread lice and disease to wild fish. In 2019 Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to phase out open-net farms by 2025.

In a statement released Wednesday, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Diane Lebouthillier said existing salmon aquaculture licenses will be renewed for five years to ensure a successful transition, but with stricter conditions around managing sea lice on farmed fish, reporting requirements for the industry, and monitoring of marine mammal interactions.

From July 1 this year only closed-containment systems on land or in the sea will be considered for new salmon aquaculture licenses.

Lebouthillier said the government recognized closed-containment systems would be a more expensive investment and planned to issue nine-year licenses to successful applicants to ensure greater certainty.

A number of First Nations and coastal communities rely on open-net salmon farms for their livelihood and the government intends to release a draft salmon aquaculture transition plan by the end of July.

“We recognize the importance of meaningful and thoughtful engagement with First Nations partners and communities as we move forward, in order to ensure that economic impacts are mitigated,” federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement.

“It’s great to see the federal government commit to concrete deadlines, even though they do not meet the government’s original commitment to transition from open-net pens by 2025 or the urgency of the moment given the dire state of many wild salmon runs,” said Kilian Stehfest, marine conservation specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation.

However, the BC Salmon Farmers Association said the five-year timeline for a full transition away from open-net farms was unrealistic.

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