SAYWARD -- The task employees of a North Island fish hatchery have been dreading has arrived, and staff have now begun the process of culling nearly one million salmon they have been raising.

Mowi Canada says the killing is necessary because of a decision that Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan made in December – to remove fish farm operations from B.C.'s Discovery Islands region.

Mowi estimates 925,000 juvenile salmon, which are now about a year-and-a-half old, will be destroyed by Thursday. The operation is being overseen by head veterinarian Terra MacDonald.

"These fish are healthy, they have good welfare, they’re not carrying a disease and so to see them have to be euthanized is really difficult," MacDonald said. "I’m not generally in the business of killing healthy fish."

The fish, which are located in large tanks at the Big Tree Hatchery just south of Sayward, are being given anesthetics to sedate them before being euthanized.

"It’s my duty as a veterinarian to ensure that this is done humanely without suffering, but it still hurts," said Macdonald. "I know that they did not suffer but I also know that they didn’t live the life that they should have."

Elected Chief Councillor Don Svanvik of the 'Namgis First Nation says it’s unfortunate the fish have had to be culled.

"There have been culls before in all different species of animals and it’s not anything to celebrate, but we’re fighting for the survival of wild salmon," he said.

Svanvik says the minister’s decision was the right one and was based on consultations with Nations who have territories where the salmon pass by.

"It shouldn’t be a surprise because the people in our area have been in this battle for over 30 years. We have the Cohen Commission, with recommendations that those farms be shut down unless they can demonstrate that they’re not harmful to wild salmon," said Svanvik.

But the BC Salmon Farmers Association disputes that claim, submitting a statement to CTV:

"The Cohen Commission stated salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area should be removed if they pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to migrating Fraser River Sockeye salmon. Late last year the DFO assessed all scientific research done in the decade since and concluded the pathogens found on farms pose no more than a minimal risk, so that threshold was met. The science indicated salmon farms are not harming wild salmon populations."

Chris McNeill, manager of the Big Tree Hatchery says the minister’s decision was a hasty one. 

"We’re not asking to stay in the Discovery Islands, we’re just asking for time. Politicians know better than anyone it takes time to make decisions. They just did not allow us any of that," said McNeill.

He says hatchery employees, and the industry as a whole, are feeling abandoned by the government.

"I think it’s a big letdown from our government, the people that are supposed to lead this country. They’ve put us all in a position of uncertainty,” he said.

Because of the euthanization process, Mowi says the destroyed salmon can’t be used as food but will instead be turned into fertilizer. It's not a result staff wanted to see.

"They’ve been cared for with so much pride and love, so to see them have to go this route for what is essentially no reason is exceptionally hard," MacDonald said.