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Federal Court rejects bid to review not renewing licences of B.C. fish farms

VANCOUVER — A 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.
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An Atlantic salmon is shown at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER — A 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" 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 BC Salmon Farmers Association says in an e-mailed 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.”

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 by We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations, along with Mowi Canada West, CermaqCanada and Grieg Seafood, 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 BC Salmon Farmers Association says.

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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2024.

The Canadian Press