Ottawa Still Weak on Fish Farm Risks, Says NDP

The Liberals must ‘get off their asses,’ argues fisheries critic.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 29 Aug 2017 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Ottawa’s response to a fish farm catastrophe in Washington State is weak and unsurprising given the federal government’s record on fish farms, says the New Democrat critic for fisheries.

Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly said the response from the federal Liberal government was vague and that Canada has a history of inaction after similar incidents.

He said farmed fish have escaped pens during a number of significant incidents in Canada, but the federal government “has done next to nothing.”

“We continue to support a sunset industry we know is impacting the wild salmon fishery,” Donnelly said.

Earlier this month farmed Atlantic salmon escaped from a collapsed fish farm pen near Cypress Island in Washington State, not far from Victoria.

About 130,000 salmon were recovered from the collapsed pen but another 170,000 escaped, say state officials.*

The state immediately put a moratorium on new permits for farms until a full review of the incident is finished.

“It's interesting that the U.S. has taken action after a single escape,” Donnelly said. “I wonder what it will take for the Trudeau government to get off their asses and act.”

Fish farming of Atlantic salmon has long been a contentious issue in B.C. with opponents arguing farmed fish put native Pacific salmon species at risk from disease and sea lice.

An attempt by Donnelly to require fish farms operate in closed pens was voted down in Parliament last year.

Promotion of fish farms by Fisheries and Oceans Canada is another sore spot with opponents who say the government should be regulating industry and not promoting it.

But a year ago federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said there’s no problem with the department’s backing of fish farms.

Following the Washington incident, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in a statement it is monitoring the situation and examining its potential impact.

The statement said the department will conduct stream surveys looking for Atlantic salmon and that it was taking the situation seriously.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not acknowledge two attempts by The Tyee to contact it Monday.

Donnelly said Ottawa needs to be more specific about what action it's taking after the Washington fish escape.

B.C.’s new Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said she will work with the federal government to ensure proper measures protect against the potential impact of the escaped salmon.

“I'll be following that very closely to make sure there's resources in place for that to be handled as comprehensively as possible,” said Popham, MLA for Saanich South.

She said B.C. is giving Ottawa the “benefit of the doubt” on salmon issues and wants to build a solid working relationship with the federal government.

Popham said the province is continuing with a review by an advisory council on fish aquaculture.

The federal government regulates permits for fish farms, but the provincial government grants tenure to farms after they’ve been approved. No new tenure will be granted while the review is underway, Popham said.

*Story updated Aug. 29 at 6 p.m.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

Is the NDP already radical enough?

Take this week's poll