Surrey businesses with a stake in B.C.’s farmed salmon industry are on tenterhooks waiting to learn what the federal government ultimately has in store for their livelihood. This is after Joyce Murray, minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard, announced on June 23 that in coming weeks the government will reveal a draft framework for transitioning away from open-net pen salmon aquaculture in B.C.’s waters.
“Not only waiting, but actively being involved is what they’re going to do in the consultation that the DFO will be engaging in,” said Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade. “There is a specific framework document that Joyce Murray is coming out with in the next couple of weeks which we’re all waiting for, too.”
According to a report entitled Consequences of the decision to shut down salmon farming in the Discovery Islands – Surrey Supplement, April 2021, Surrey is the “hub” of the salmon farming industry in Metro Vancouver, with six companies in Surrey engaged in fish processing, feed milling, truck transportation, packaging, warehousing and distribution.
The economic footprint of companies in Surrey that are part of B.C.’s farmed salmon supply chain, according to the report, is $219.6 million in output, $46.1 million in GDP, $24.1 million in salaries and 344 full-time employees.
Tory fisheries critic Rick Perkins and deputy critic Mel Arnold charged in a joint statement that telling the industry it needs to wait until Spring 2023 for a plan “increases uncertainty.”
“The Minister must provide the scientific basis for a transition plan and explain why the steps she’s announced are in the best interest of wild Pacific salmon, the harvesters, and communities that depend on them,” they said.
Huberman said businesses in Surrey that process farmed salmon have told the board that while two years is too short for consultation, “they’re appreciative of the pause and the time that they have to ensure that the DFO understands the significance of the salmon farming industry, that farmed fish is not bad fish.”
“Two years is not enough, they wanted six years,” Huberman said.
The worry for further job losses in Surrey is palpable, she added, noting Mowi Canada West – B.C.’s largest salmon producer – closed its 23,000-square-foot fish processing plant in Surrey.
According to a company document, this came as a “direct result” of the Trudeau government’s decision on Dec. 17, 2020 to cancel licenses for salmon farming in the Discovery Islands.
“So Mowi has already shut down their operation,” Huberman said. “That’s 100 jobs I believe, they’re relocating to Washington State. They just don’t have the support that they need to thrive.”
Josh Plamondon is the CEO of Aqua-Pak and Airfoam Group, a fish-packing company operating in Surrey. He said while he’s “absolutely” concerned by the potential for job losses depending on what the government does, he’s also “optimistic” that the government will see the “positives” in the salmon farming industry. “My hope is that they build a framework that sees the industry grow,” he said. “We’ll see if that happens.”
“There’s uncertainty,” he added. “I’m cautiously optimist that they’re going to do the right things and talk to the right people.”