BC salmon industry at risk beyond farms

    The entire BC salmon industry supply chain shows the real effect that farm closures will have, and are already having, on the region's economy and community.


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    Employment, economic development and indigenous reconciliation were some of the issues discussed yesterday at a press conference jointly convened by the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) and the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA). However, beyond the troubling numbers that were presented, what became clear was that BC’s salmon industry is at risk beyond farms and producers, beyond the coast and the rural communities, beyond the faces of the industry spokespeople we normally see in the news.

    “You may not think that what happens on Vancouver Island or in northern British Columbia matters to an urban centre such as Surrey, but it really does. There is a connection between our urban communities and our rural communities,” said Anita Huberman, President and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, at the start of the event. Not only that but what happens in BC aquaculture matters to many other companies in the salmon industry supply chain.

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    “We are here to stand beside our partners and let our voices be heard. We are an important member of the aquaculture community and the business community here in Surrey, and we won’t stand by and let special interest groups control the narrative,” summed up near the end Joshua Plamondon, CEO of Aqua-Pak and Airfoam group, one of the companies in the supply chain and a member of the BCSFA.

    The industry figures

    Home to numerous operations in salmon feed milling, fish processing, trucking, packaging, and the provision of goods and services, Surrey is the hub of salmon farming in Metro Vancouver. That means that the area is already experiencing negative impacts due to the already 40% reduction in salmon farming production since 2020.

    “We have seen the impacts the closures have had on our businesses in Surrey,” said Anita Huberman, President & CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade. “Last year Mowi Canada West permanently closed their fish processing plant, which resulted in the loss of 80 direct jobs locally, and this isn’t the only example,” she continued. And remarked, “there still has been no government action to support these workers.”

    As the BC Salmon Farmers Association has recalled on many occasions, the closure of salmon farms does not only affect the producing companies. The industry is interconnected with an extensive supply chain and this closure will affect – already affects – many local businesses on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland.

    Direct impacts at risk within the Surrey area attributed to salmon farming enterprises include $220 million in annual revenue, $46 million in GDP, 344 full-time jobs, and $24 million in annual salaries. The province-wide indirect and induced economic impacts generated by the Surrey salmon farming facility include over $363 million in annual revenues, $122 million in GDP, 1,189 full-time jobs, and $65 million in annual salaries. These are all figures from an earlier report prepared by the independent economics firm RIAS Inc.

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    What we are here today to talk about is the impacts that we actually have in urban areas all across British Columbia, but especially in Surrey,” summed it up during the conference Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “So here in Surrey, we are responsible for over about $200 million in economic activity as a sector. We have gone from 2020 when we were producing $1.6 billion in economic activity in British Columbia and employing over 6500 people to losses in the Discovery Islands, and now what we’re worrying about with the Minister, Joyce Murray’s transition process is losing the sector altogether. We were BC’s largest agricultural export. To date, we have lost more than 20 million meal portions per year out of production.”

    The stories behind the industry

    Those are the numbers, but what are the stories behind them? Some production companies, such as Mowi Canada West, are already sharing those stories on their social media with their #RippleEffect campaign. We learned a few more at yesterday’s joint SBOT and BCSFA press conference in Surrey.

    “I actually became a salmon farmer to revitalize coastal communities, to bring strong resilience to the people living and working in coastal communities”, began Brad Hicks, director and partner in Taplow Feeds. This fish disease veterinarian turned entrepreneur by engaging in the salmon farming industry in British Columbia in 1988 recalled how, prior to salmon farming, most coastal communities relied on cyclical industries. “Salmon farming offered multi-generational jobs for people wanting to produce food live by the ocean and stayed with families”, he said.

    “Now the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean wants to destroy all these coastal communities based on a full false assumption that removing salmon farms will increase the number of wild salmon”, Hicks continued. According to him, Minister Joyce Murray, “is using the precautionary approach as a blunt political instrument to blunger in coastal communities in British Columbia,” and sent a final message to her: “This thing you are doing is evil. It is unfounded. It is callous. It is uncaring. And it will not end well.”

    Next to share his story was Kyran Clark, Director of Operations for Aquatrans Distributors. He has grown up and spent his entire life in the Greater Vancouver area except for the 4 years he spent studying in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for his Degree in Operations and Supply Chain Management. “The one thing that I knew for certain was that upon completion of my degree, I wanted to come home to Vancouver to a city I was proud of, to a city I loved and that I wanted to contribute towards. And I knew in order to do that, I had to find an industry that would reflect the values of my own sustainability, community, innovation. I landed in aquaculture and transportation”.

    This young graduate has been there for the past five and a half years dedicating his time, effort, and resources to learning the industry, building, growing, and maintaining relationships within the sector. “It’s now very disheartening to myself that everything that I’ve worked for and that I’ve tried to achieve is now in the hands of the Canadian government. And as a young Canadian professional, it’s very discouraging. Now, my story is not unique, there’s thousands of others who face a very similar impact that work in this industry”.

    The third and final story is that of Joshua Plamondon, CEO of Aqua-Pak and the Airfoam Group.”This year has seen aquaculture share fall to 12% of our overall sales and 27% of seafood. It’s a 50% reduction. Our Camper River facility experienced a shutdown and layoff for the first quarter. That’s the first time in my 17-year career that we had to do that and those conversations weren’t easy,” he shared.

    “Interestingly, our processor customers in the Lower Mainland who would often buy and process local BC salmon for retail applications are still consuming packaging at the same rate as prior years,” he explained. “We offer a recycling program, so we see where the packaging that they’re buying their fish from and where it comes from. They’re simply buying fish from other parts of the world rather than selecting locally farmed salmon, which is no longer available. The demand for seafood hasn’t changed, but the source of it locally has already shifted,” he continued. “You will still see farm salmon at the local grocery store. It will be raised halfway around the world and will cost twice as much and time of high inflation, especially in our food supply chain. This will only hurt Canadians further”.

    The industry does not need to be shut down

    All of these stories could be summed up in a sentence that Joshua Plamondon also said, “The consumer will still get their food, but the local communities who could be thriving are going to suffer without jobs in any form of economy to prosper.” And that’s not to mention other issues such as the environmental repercussions of transportation or the impacts on the First Nations who depend on this industry.

    “We are on the traditional territory of our Coast Salish people,” recalled Anita Huberman, President and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade and host of this conference, at the beginning of the session. “The aquaculture industry, it is about true indigenous reconciliation,” she continued and pointed out that today it starts June, indigenous recognition month. “The Canadian government’s decision to close them [salmon farms] in part compromises indigenous reconciliation. It compromises serious economic. Aquaculture supports 20,000 Canadians and their families for jobs and their economic livelihood, producing millions of high quality, nutritious and sustainable protein meals for millions in Canada and around the world.”

    Huberman also recalled that when we talk about all this, we are also talking about food security and food sustainability. That is something that the BC Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship has also asked the Canadian government to do on several occasions while calling for no more salmon farms closures in the indigenous territories of British Columbia that do want them. This position is supported by the BC Salmon Farmers Association, which months ago said the future of salmon farming in British Columbia depends on an indigenous-led transition plan.

    “We are calling on the federal government to bring a more rational approach to the transition plan and include other Ministers in providing leadership to developing a reasonable path forward,” said Brian Kingzett. The decision is expected this June and, according to the Executive Director of the BCSFA, there is a rumor that it may be forthcoming, although he expects it to be delayed by six months, as several stakeholders have asked the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans to do. It may not seem like much, but for them this postponement means hope.

    “We hope that any more time will allow us to have more due diligence around the discussion and for the First Nations, and the sector, and our sector partners, to try and explain to this Fisheries Minister about the sustainability of the industry and that we were prepared to speak up this challenge and that the industry does not need to be shut down,” Kingzett concluded.

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