Canada Bans Open-Net Pen Salmon Farming

Canada just banned open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia


(updated )

3 Minutes Read

Photo shows a sockeye salmon breaching the surface of the water Open-net pen salmon farming harms wild animals, too - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

The Canadian government just announced a ban on open-net pen salmon farming.

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The aquaculture industry must phase out pen-net pen salmon farming – large marine cages often containing hundreds of thousands of fishes* – along British Columbia’s coastline over the next five years, before a permanent ban on June 30, 2029.

Aside from established farms eligible for renewal, Canada will only grant licenses for marine or land-based closed-containment systems from July 1, 2024. Environmental and wildlife groups have welcomed the decision, but industry representatives remain critical.

Because many First Nations and coastal communities currently rely on open-net pen aquaculture, the Canadian government says it will release a draft plan by the end of next month with an emphasis on supporting those communities during the transition, economic support for innovative or clean aquaculture technology, and effective management.

“The government is firmly committed to taking concrete steps to protect wild Pacific salmon,” said Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. 

“Today, I’m announcing the essence of a responsible, realistic, and achievable transition that ensures the protection of wild species, food security, and the vital economic development of British Columbia’s First Nations, coastal communities, and others, as we keep working towards a final transition plan by 2025,” she added.

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Ending open-net salmon farming marks ‘transformative shift’

Photo shows five large, circular, open-net pen style farms for fishes from above
Leonid – Wild salmon are declining, and aquaculture farms are part of the problem

Approximately half of the Pacific salmon populations are in some sort of decline, per Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and some studies have linked this downward trajectory to farming and aquaculture. There are currently dozens of open net farms in British Columbia.

Much like other forms of factory farming, aquaculture promotes the spread of disease, and open-net pen farming, in particular, allows parasites, chemicals, bacteria, and fatal diseases like piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) to flow into the wider ocean ecosystem, infecting other animals.

In 2021, the Pacific Salmon Foundation reported that 86 percent of British Columbians showed “high levels of concern” over declining salmon stocks.

“Since 2019, Canadians have looked to the federal government to protect wild salmon – including regulating fish farming,” said Taleeb Noormohamed, Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville. “Ending open net aquaculture is a transformative shift that will make Canada a world leader in sustainable aquaculture production, and preserve BC’s pristine coast and fragile ecosystem for generations to come.”

*While the English language usually refers to multiple fishes as “fish”, we use “fishes” to emphasize that they are individuals.

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