February 16, 2024


Canada's fisheries department accused of "gross mismanagement" of aquaculture in British Columbia




An Indigenous-led group in Canada is criticising what it says is the "gross mismanagement" of aquaculture in British Columbia by the country's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), as it called for a separation of its regulatory and promotional responsibilities.


According to the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, the department is mired in conflict of interest stemming from its dual role, which the group's chairman, Bob Chamberlin, described as like "marking your own homework."


Chamberlin stated the group wants the department to stick to its primary obligation of looking after the environment and fisheries, and to implement "a truly independent" scientific body to help inform government decisions affecting marine life in BC.


A spokesperson for the DFO said in a statement that scientific integrity guides and shapes how it generates advice to inform decision making, including through impartial peer review.


"DFO continues to engage with our partners and stakeholders on the development of a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025," said spokesperson Kathryn Hallett. "Consultations are ongoing with First Nations, the province of BC, industry, ENGOs, and British Columbians."


She said the goal is for the fish and seafood farming industries to operate responsibly and sustainably in a way that conserves the aquatic ecosystem for the future.


Chamberlin and the alliance have been vocal critics of federal policy on fisheries in BC, including what he said is industry involvement in the reports by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat on issues such as fish farming's risk to wild salmon stocks.


Chamberlin claimed such participation in the scientific reports results in a "predetermined" outcome that would benefit industry.


"In conclusion, we need to fix the current [Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat] process, which is run by DFO and entwined with the management preferences, influences and aspirations of the department," Chamberlin said during a briefing in Ottawa.


"Based on our considerable professional experience, I reiterate that Canada should implement a truly independent science advice body to directly advise decision-makers and recommend further research without being subjected to vested interests inside or outside of DFO."

Brian Kingzett, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers' Association, rejected the notion that the DFO was in a conflict of interest.


"The Fisheries and Oceans Canada process has very respected scientists," he told CBC News. "They're regulating stakeholders, they consult stakeholders because there's a lot of input to be gained.


"[The alliance's allegation] is a difficult argument to hear in the public sphere, especially when it is affecting something as important as the salmon farming industry in British Columbia."


Kingzett said he doesn't disagree that decision-making around salmon farming should be guided by science, and there was certainly room for improvement at the DFO when it came to bringing in other international experts for its reports.


He added the secretariat's latest evaluations have found salmon farming in BC to be of "minimal risk" to wild salmon, though the Wild Salmon Alliance has long claimed the industry is causing pollutants, pathogens and parasites along salmon migration routes.



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