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B.C. salmon farm closure decision was necessary, says DFO amid court challenges

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward
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The federal government is standing by its decision not to renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms in British Columbia's Discovery Islands, despite recent court challenges.

A statement from the office of Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray says her decision last month against renewing the licences for the farms off Vancouver Island near Campbell River was difficult but necessary.

The statement says recent science suggests uncertainty about risks posed to wild salmon by the area's farms and the federal government is taking a precautionary approach to help ensure the well-being of threatened species.

Mowi Canada West, one of several companies operating farms in the Discovery Islands, is seeking a judicial review of Murray's decision.

Mowi's application filed this week in Federal Court in Vancouver seeks an order quashing or setting aside the decision and a declaration that Murray's determination was “unreasonable, invalid and unlawful.”

It says the company has been operating in the Campbell River area for 30 years and is highly involved in the coastal communities and has business agreements with 10 First Nations and 10 Indigenous-owned companies.

The application says the company's workforce has been reduced from 645 employees to 312 and the “decision only deepens the harms to Mowi's business, Indigenous self-governance and the economy of coastal B.C.”

The farms off B.C.'s coast have been a major flashpoint, with environmental groups and some Indigenous nations saying the farms are linked to disease that transfers to wild salmon, while the industry, local politicians and other First Nations say they are safe and the closures threaten thousands of jobs.

A Campbell River-area First Nation issued an open letter to its membership this week explaining its decision to also challenge Murray's decision in Federal Court.

“To be clear, this challenge is not about our support or opposition to fish farming,” Chief Councillor Chickite said. “Our challenge makes it clear that we have not defined our position on salmon farming in our waters. This is about our right as titleholders to make decisions about how our territory is used.”

The Fisheries Ministry statement says it will not comment further now that the matter is before the courts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.

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