History in BC

Commercial finfish aquaculture in BC began in the mid 1950s when the BC government licensed the first rainbow trout farms. Salmon farming started in BC in the early 1970s with small, locally owned farms, mainly on the Sunshine Coast. Poor environmental conditions, diseases and market challenges forced many small operators out of business. By 2000, consolidation had put the entire BC industry into the hands of a few large corporations.

In the 1980s, First Nations, local communities, fishermen and environmentalists began to voice concerns about fish farms and their impact on the ocean and communities. Today, the industry is tightly consolidated and production has vastly increased while little has been done to address the concerns voiced since the industry’s inception.

Salmon Farming Licenses by Region

There are currently 137 salmon farming tenures in BC:

  • 84 tenures (61%) – Eastern Vancouver Island and Mainland Coast
  • 48 tenures (35%) – Western Vancouver Island
  • 6 tenures (4%) – Central Coast


1985–90: BC’s salmon farming industry expands from 10 to over 180 sites;1

1986: The first environmental review of the fish farming industry, the Gillespie Inquiry initiated by the Social Credit government.

1991: First report of non-native Atlantic salmon attempting to spawn in a Pacific stream;

1995: Provincial government moratorium prevents new fish farms, and caps the number of tenures at 121. However the size of farms and intensity of production is allowed to increase. Fish production increases during the moratorium;

1995–97: A second environmental review of the fish farming industry (the Salmon Aquaculture Review—SAR) is initiated by the Provincial NDP government to address public concerns;

1997: The SAR’s 49 recommendations are made public. The provincial government and the BC Salmon Farmers Association support the findings, and announce plans to implement them; 2

2000: Federal Auditor General’s audit identifies a conflict of interest between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ promotion of salmon farming and its mandate to protect wild fish and wild fish habitat; 3

2001: Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries’ report reveals that DFO disregards its mandate to protect wild fish stocks; 4

2001: The Leggatt Inquiry, a review and critique of the aquaculture industry sponsored by the by the David Suzuki Foundation, is conducted; 5

2002: The Liberal government lifts the 1995 moratorium on new tenures;

2002: Broughton Archipelago pink salmon stocks crash. Fewer than 5% of the expected run returns. Both DFO and the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (PFRCC) agree that the low numbers are exceptional. 6 Academic and independent scientists, First Nations, environmental groups, and local communities suspect sea lice infestations are responsible;

2002: The PFRCC releases an advisory to federal and provincial fisheries ministers, urging the immediate removal of Broughton Archipelago salmon farms in order to protect outward bound juvenile pink salmon in 2003; 6

2003: Broughton Archipelago salmon farms remain open despite widespread media coverage on the issue and increasing public opposition to salmon aquaculture.

2007: BC Government’s Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture delivers a report with a long list of recommendations, including “A rapid, phased transition to ocean-based closed containment” that should be in place within 5 years.

Learn More

Rosella Leslie and Betty Keller (1996). Sea Silver: Inside British Columbia’s Salmon Farming Industry, Horsdal & Schubart.

Stephen Hume, Alexandra Morton, Betty Keller, Rosella M. Leslie, Otto Langer & Don Staniford (2004). A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming. Harbour Publishing. (Winner of the 2005 Roderick Haig-Brown BC Book Prize and shortlisted for the 2005 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness.)


1 Rosella Leslie and Betty Keller (1996). Sea Silver: Inside British Columbia’s Salmon Farming Industry, Horsdal & Schubart.

2 EAO, The Salmon Aquaculture Review: Final Report. 1997, Environmental Assessment Office: Victoria, BC.

3 AGC, Chapter 30 – Fisheries and Oceans – The Effects of Salmon Farming in British Columbia on the Management of Wild Salmon Stocks. 2000, Auditor General of Canada: Ottawa. P. 42

4 SSCF, Aquaculture in Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific Regions. 2001, Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries: Ottawa.

5 Leggatt, S.M., Clear choices, clean waters – the Leggatt inquiry into salmon farming in British Columbia. 2001, The David Suzuki Foundation: Vancouver, BC. P. 1-35.

6 PFRCC, 2002 Advisory: The Protection of Broughton Archipelago Pink Salmon Stocks. 2002, Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council: Vancouver, BC. P. 90.