The Significance of the Discovery Island Fish Farms Closure

Every individual escape incident from fish farms can result in tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of escaped farmed fish in nearby waters. Photo credit: BC SPCA

“I have to take into account the plight of wild salmon, which are in a state of serious decline.”

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray

DFO’s decision to shut down 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms off British Columbia’s Discovery Islands marks a significant turning point in the long-standing debate over fish farms in Canada. Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, in her announcement, emphasized the need to protect wild fish populations, particularly wild salmon, which have been in decline.

What’s Up With Fish Farms?

Industrial ocean fish farms wreak havoc on marine ecosystems through the direct release of heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides, and untreated fish waste, along with significant spills of farmed fish. Photo credit: Ashley Belle Burns on Dreamstime

The Discovery Islands are crucial for wild salmon migration, where narrow passages increase the likelihood of interaction between wild and farmed salmon. Scientific studies have raised concerns about the risks these fish farms pose to wild salmon, including the potential transfer of diseases and sea lice. This uncertainty has led the government to adopt a precautionary approach to managing salmon farming in the area.

This move has been met with support from advocates who have long argued that fish farms are detrimental to the health of wild salmon. The decision aligns with the federal government’s mandate to Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, which includes developing a plan to transition away from open-net salmon farming in BC waters by 2025 and to introduce Canada’s first Aquaculture Act.

Open net-cage aquaculture lacks any barrier between farmed fish and the environment, leading to the release of large quantities of fish feed, feces, and chemicals, as well as the spread of disease and sea lice. This often results in conditions that are uninhabitable for other species. Photo credit: naturediver on iStock.

The plan to shut down these fish farms is part of a broader effort to safeguard wild salmon populations, which face multiple stressors, including climate change, habitat degradation, and various forms of harmful fishing practices. The economic implications of these threats are drastic. If wild salmon populations continue to decline, local economies and ecosystems will continue to be negatively impacted.

This decision represents a balance between ecological responsibility and economic considerations, a move that could redefine the future of fish farming and wild salmon in British Columbia.

Read this CBC article for more.