Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development estimates, Mar. 14, 2018

Answer:

A. Olsen: Thank you to the member for Nechako Lakes.

To the minister: in the 2017 election campaign, your party committed to implementing the findings of the Cohen commission. One of the primary findings…. There are lots of findings, but one of the findings was about the siting of fish farms.

Being as you make the decisions about tenures and where they’re allowed to anchor to the ocean floor, will this commitment that you’ve made factor into determining whether or not you’ll renew the tenures that are upcoming?

Hon. D. Donaldson: Thanks for the question. When it comes to wild salmon, we’ve made it clear, as a government, that we’re very focused on the protection of wild salmon in migratory routes.

Now, I have to point out that the primary decision of the siting of aquaculture activities, such as open-net fish farms in the water, is the federal government. We have jurisdiction through the Land Act over the anchoring and provincial jurisdiction over seabed and land access to the sites.

In the bigger scheme of things, that is a minor jurisdictional authority compared to the primary authority over the siting and the choosing of the sites, which is a federal responsibility. That’s why we’ve been working to get the federal government involved to a greater degree than they are at this moment.

A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the answer. There is some authority that the provincial government has that it could exert, based on the vision that the minister, the Premier and other ministers of this government have stated — a commitment to wild salmon.

Clearly, the responsibility that the minister’s ministry has on tenures isn’t a non-authority. There is some authorization that the province is required to give, or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Can the minister explain that? It appears that there’s an ability for us, as a province, to grant tenures to anchor to the ocean floor. While the federal government has the main authority for where it’s sited, what role do we have?

Hon. D. Donaldson: I’ll try to lay this out to the member as best I can.

Once a decision is made for siting in a general sense by the federal government, then we have the ability through our tenure system, through the Land Act, to work with the federal government to make minor relocation decisions and conditions — for instance, how close to a fish stream one of these facilities is actually anchored once the general site is determined. We can issue conditions around where the attachments to the land or the anchors in the water are located.

Those are the kinds of authorities we have under the Land Act, under my ministry, when it comes to the actual siting of the fish farms, but the major decision authority is with the federal government about where they’re located.

A. Olsen: So the ministry cannot…. Essentially, then, the ministry must grant renewal of these tenures if the federal government has licensed them and chosen the site?

Hon. D. Donaldson: We, as in the province, under the Land Act under this ministry, are not compelled to grant a renewal. That’s up to the statutory decision–maker, who can grant a renewal or not grant a renewal. But we do have, under the act, the ability to make mitigative measures. If the anchoring is going to cause what our scientists decide is environmental damage, we can insist, through conditions, on mitigative measures that will avoid that environmental damage as a direct result of the anchoring process.

That’s the level of jurisdiction and of decision-making that’s split between the federal government and the provincial government on this topic.

A. Olsen: The minister’s party was very clear that they would ensure that the salmon farming industry does not endanger wild salmon by implementing the recommendations of the Cohen Commission, keeping farmsites out of important salmon migration routes and supporting research and transparent monitoring to minimize the risks of disease transfer from captive wild salmon.

That was the commitment. There’s science that’s coming forward pretty clearly from the strategic salmon health initiative that there is disease in the Johnstone Strait fish farms and that they threaten the wild salmon fisheries — as in the commitment and a commitment to the Cohen Commission.

Presumably, the government — specifically, this ministry — could use its authority over the tenures to enforce what was said during the campaign and enforce providing safety to the Fraser River sockeye.

Hon. D. Donaldson: The member is accurate in saying that the tool that we have at our disposal is the Land Act when it comes to how tenure is granted through the province and that it’s not the tool that addresses the siting. That’s within the federal government jurisdiction. We’ve been able to connect with the federal government on this. We’re not happy that we haven’t been able to connect enough at the minister level and the minister responsible. They need to step up on recommendations around the Cohen, and we’re willing to work with them on that.

What we’re trying to achieve in meeting with First Nations who have concerns around fish farms is getting to certainty and getting to reconciliation and using a consent-based process to do that.

This particular topic we’re discussing here, around the replacement of tenure, is an operational consultation. It’s something that a statutory decision–maker has within a very limited framework. That’s what’s underway, as well, with our ministry, with the 20-odd tenures that are coming up at the end of June.

A. Olsen: I believe it’s happened in the past where government has created a policy that provided direction to the statutory decision–maker as to the vision and the direction the government was deciding to go.

I understand that the statutory decision–maker makes the decision about whether or not a certain item, a certain net or operation, can be tied to the ocean floor, but the statutory decision–maker makes those decisions under the direction of the government, of the ministry.

Am I correct in this statement — that the ministry could and the minister could create a policy that no new salmon farm applications will be considered and no renewals will be given due to the Cohen Commission; that if wild salmon are going to be threatened by the fish farm industry, they would be moved; and that under that, this government’s not going to renew these fish farms because of the threat that it poses to wild salmon?

Hon. D. Donaldson: That scenario is not what we could do under the Land Act. What the member is bringing up is overall aquaculture policy, and that’s something that’s under the purview of the Minister of Agriculture. But under the Land Act, the legal obligations are very defined. Under the Land Act, there’s no ability to undertake what the member has pointed out.

I have some answers from a previous question, if you just give me an opportunity, Member. Thank you very much. The critic asked about the number of shellfish aquaculture tenures. There are 468 aquaculture sites, and those are licensed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in our waters. On the licence length that is possible under the federal legislation for those kinds of activities, the maximum term of that licence is nine years.

A. Olsen: Just to clarify this and get this correct. If the Minister of Agriculture creates an aquaculture policy directing the government to follow the commitments to the Cohen Commission, should it be determined that wild salmon be threatened by the finfish aquaculture industry, then the minister of this ministry — Forests, Lands — can direct the statutory decision–maker to not proceed with granting tenure renewals.

Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you for the question. Under the Land Act, we have legal obligations and can’t fetter, can’t be seen to fetter, the statutory decision–maker. So that’s not the tool that the member is getting at.

There could be policy created by the Ministry of Agriculture when it comes to finfish aquaculture. But again, it’s the federal government that issues the finfish licences. So it would take…. Any kind of policy that the Minister of Agriculture is interested in pursuing in connection to the finfish aquaculture is dependent on the federal government taking the same direction and being on board.

A. Olsen: Okay. I understand all that. I understand that the federal government’s got its finfish aquaculture policy and it creates the siting and it grants licences. But we can also stand up for wild salmon, or we could also decide as a province that we’re not going to allow nets to be attached to the ocean floor, correct?

However, the government has to determine, whether it be through the Minister of Agriculture or another ministry…. We have the ability to say: “No, you can’t attach that to the ocean floor.”

Hon. D. Donaldson: If there’s some type of environmental harm directly related to the anchoring process or whether it’s underwater or on land or there are considerations of moving the finfish farm because it is in too close proximity to a stream on land, those are the kinds of conditions that can be placed through the statutory decision–maker. But again, the overall authority when it comes to aquaculture is with the federal government.

I understand this can be frustrating to some people. I just have to give a little history. Because it was so frustrating to many people under the previous government, a court case was launched by concerned parties. The result of that court case was that in 2009, federal jurisdiction became the primary jurisdiction governing aquaculture industry in B.C. waters. That was unfortunate.

Directly as a result of the ignoring of concerns, some of which you have mentioned, we lost control, because of the court case, over much of what you’re talking about.

A. Olsen: I guess part of the confusion that’s created is the commitments that were made in the election that we were going to get a certain type of policy — policy that implements the recommendations of the Cohen commission, policy that keeps fish farm sites out of important salmon migration routes. All of this was created with the understanding that perhaps this government would have a different approach and, bringing it back to the budget, that we would be looking at other sources of revenue and other opportunities than finfish aquaculture. That would be the expectation, I think, of British Columbians when it came to this government.

What I’m hearing right now is that, in fact, that’s not what is possible — what was suggested in that commitment. Is that correct?

Hon. D. Donaldson: This government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the migratory routes. What is the issue here that you’re bringing up is that the replacement of tenures is not the tool to address concerns that people might have around the impact of fish farms on wild salmon. The replacement-of-tenure process is a process under the Land Act that a statutory decision–maker undertakes.

We are very concerned about wild salmon and protecting the health of wild salmon. The Cohen commission recommendations — the province has acted on a number of them. A number of them are still in the federal government’s court. But the tool to get there is not the tenure replacement process.

A. Olsen: Yeah, you have to, I guess, excuse me then, because I…. The frustration here is that on one hand, I’ve been told, with the tenures, from other ministries: this is the place to come. I’ve been with the Minister of Agriculture, and I’ll be going to other ministries as well, but I was led to believe — and, in fact, have been told — that this was one of the tools that was at the disposal of the provincial government.

That is, I think, where the frustration and the confusion is coming up in this ministry. It was that the government — Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development — is going to be making decisions about the tenures for these 20 licences which the federal government has already granted.

The expectation and the confusion in the public is…. There’s an expectation that the minister actually has a decision-making authority on the future of those farms. Indeed, I think one of the fish farms that we met with had that same expectation, so perhaps some clarification is needed. We keep getting “Go to this ministry” or “Go to that ministry” on this. I think that’s where some of the confusion is.

Hon. D. Donaldson: I agree. In the public, there is a perception that the province has way more jurisdiction over aquaculture activities than, in fact, is reality, especially when it comes to tenure renewal through the Land Act. Aquaculture licensing is primarily a federal responsibility.

However, I have read the transcripts the member had with the Minister of Agriculture in her estimates. What she pointed out…. Maybe this will help alleviate some of the confusion. I don’t want the member to get the feeling that he’s been given the runaround: “Go ask this ministry. Go ask that ministry.”

This ministry, when it comes to legal obligations, has the ability, during these estimates, to answer questions about tenure renewal under the Land Act. I have also been charged by the Premier to be the coordinator when it comes to the process that we’ve embarked upon with six First Nations around finfish, Atlantic salmon, open-net aquaculture in the Broughton Archipelago. That, perhaps, is where the member heard from the Minister of Agriculture to refer questions to myself when it comes to that particular topic.

A. Olsen: If, in fact, the provincial government has, say, 10 percent or 2 percent of the decision-making of this — whatever it is today — why is it that the provincial government is leading on that relationship? It leads with the First Nations. It leads the public to believe that the provincial government has more authority than is being expressed here today. If the federal government owns everything, why is the federal government not leading that? Why are they sitting in the back of the room as an observer?

Hon. D. Donaldson: What an excellent question and an excellent observation. We have been asked by First Nations to become involved, and to further reconciliation, we have. It’s something that they’ve asked previous governments, and previous governments haven’t been getting involved to the extent that we have.

We have been successful in bringing Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff to meetings that we’ve had with the six First Nations, who we met with on January 30, and we have ongoing efforts.

It’s an excellent question. This is primarily…. The member quoted right. I would say it’s 90 percent federal jurisdiction as a result of that court case in 2009. So far, I think the federal government is not living up to that majority decision-making authority that they have. We’re continually in touch and trying to bring them to the table more.

In relation to the member’s question, the reason we’re involved is that the First Nations who have concerns asked us to get involved.

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