Court rejects bid to review minister’s order to B.C. salmon farms

The Federal Court has rejected a bid by two First Nations and salmon farm operators to review Ottawa’s decision to not renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms in the waters off British Columbia.

The written ruling from Judge Paul Favel says former fisheries minister Joyce Murray’s February 2023 decision not to renew the licences for farms around B.C.’s Discovery Islands met the “requirement of the duty to consult” with operators, and “did not breach the operators’ rights of procedural fairness.”

Favel also says the federal decision, which cited the uncertain risks posed by fish farms to wild salmon, was “reasonable.”

The application for judicial review into the decision not to renew licences was launched by the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai nations in the areas of Quadra Island and Campbell, some 200 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, as well as salmon farm operators including Grieg Seafood.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association says in an emailed response that it is disappointed to hear the results, but there is “still a collaborative pathway forward” with current Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

In a written statement, open-net fish farming opponent group Wild First says the Federal Court decision is a “vindication” for Murray’s move after “extensive consultation with the industry, First Nations and civil society.”

“She took the trouble to learn about the science that her department officials have been suppressing or ignoring and made the right call,” said Wild First campaign chairman Tony Allard. “We are indebted to her for taking decisive action to protect wild salmon.”

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Court documents say the First Nations made the application with concerns about the federal minister’s duty to consult, while salmon farm operators applied to review procedural fairness in Murray’s decision.

“The judicial review was filed … following former DFO minister Joyce Murray’s decision to not renew aquaculture licences in the Discovery Islands region, within the core traditional territory of the Laich-kwil-tach and Klahoose peoples,” the statement from the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association says.

Bob Chamberlin, the chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, said that he was encouraged to see the court throwing out the lawsuit, saying it was upholding the precautionary principle to protect the environment in the process.

Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance (FNWSA), applauded the court’s decision. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

“This decision gives us hope that the transition plan for B.C. salmon farms will continue to give effect to the principle and protect wild salmon stocks throughout the province,” he said in a statement.

Murray’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked her with developing the plan to shift from open-net salmon farming in B.C. by 2025, and the message was repeated in a similar letter for Lebouthillier.

Neither the Fisheries Department nor the minister have yet released final transition plans for 79 B.C. salmon farms.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said an analysis showed the province could lose more than 4,700 jobs and up to $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if the licences are not renewed.

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