Ottawa must cover the costs of the salmon-farming transition

The burden put on salmon-farming communities to make the transition is deeply unfair.


Ottawa’s decision to shut down British Columbia’s open-net salmon farms by 2029 can only be described as a radical, imposed shift for the communities whose economies are now being upended, especially First Nations involved in the industry. 

The end of the ocean-based salmon-farming operations was announced by Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. 

Wilkinson outlined a five-year transition plan for switching the land-based operations, which offers only a short reprieve from what could be disastrous consequences for salmon-farming communities. As it currently stands, the transition will come with tremendous financial and social consequences for those communities. 

There is only one just and fair way that this forced transition can work, and that is if the federal government promises to cover the costs of transitioning to land-based operations. Costs for transitioning salmon-farming operations are steep, and the five-year timeline offers little breathing room. 

The social and economic fabric of many First Nations is deeply connected with the salmon-farming industry, akin to Alberta communities that rely on the oil and gas sector. For the Kitasoo Xai’Xais, salmon-farming resulted in their community’s employment skyrocketing from a deadly 5 percent, all the way up to 99 percent. 

According to Kitasoo Xai’Xais leaders, the economic stability created by embracing salmon-farming was crucial in ending the tragic occurrence of suicides, which have been absent in the community for almost two decades now. 

Shutting down these farms now seriously threatens to unravel everything the Kitasoo Xai’Xais have built, and lead to rising mental health issues and community instability within the nation. 

The sheer costs of transitioning from ocean-based, open-net salmon-farming to land-based, closed-container systems are not a simple undertaking, not an inexpensive one. Estimates project that the switch could cost $1.8 billion and take at least a decade to be completed. 

On the five-year timeline, those costs are certain to fluctuate due to factors like inflation, dumping a huge financial strain on the communities being forced into the transition. The remote communities who do farm salmon lack the necessary infrastructure to build closed containment systems, making the transition even more challenging. 

Therefore, it is imperative that Ottawa provides the substantial financial support needed to fully cover the costs of the transition to land-based operations, as an assurance that the Kitasoo Xai’Xais will not get left behind. 

Building and scaling up land-based salmon farms is not a simple or quick process, and is fraught with technical and financial hurdles. A more extended timeline should also be provided, in addition to funding the transition. 

It is not enough to set deadlines and expectations; the federal government must provide the necessary financial resources, infrastructure support, and scientific research to ensure a smooth and fair transition. This transition, caused by Ottawa, is going to be a major problem for salmon-farming communities, and thus it is Ottawa’s responsibility to solve it 

Reconciliation cannot, and should never, involve the impoverishment of First Nations communities.


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