“If we have a name for it, it means this has been happening for thousands of years and it has nothing to do with salmon farming,” Harold Sewid, Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em Clan Chief
By Fabian Dawson
When the salmon don’t return, the Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em people of the Broughton Archipelago in Northwest British Columbia, have a name for it.
They refer to this natural phenomenon as Wayum’gallis or ‘the salmon not returning’.
As the legend goes, the Chieftain of the Salmon Princess would give a holiday to the salmon when the Salmon Princess got married.
“This caused much hunger in our lands but we survived with Luxwxiway, or the clam gardens,” said Harold Sewid, Clan Chief of the Broughton-based First Nation (pictured), whose traditional territory has become the theatre of war for anti-salmon farming activists.
“If we have a name for it, it means this has been happening for thousands of years and it has nothing to do with salmon farming,” said Sewid, a commercial fisherman who also works in the aquaculture industry.
This summer, as in the past two years, the activists are on a campaign to influence decision makers in government that the decline of wild salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest is caused by salmon farming.
Armed with questionable science laced with eco-hype and funding from foreign sources, they have managed to convince an emotional following that salmon farmers are primarily responsible for the negative impact on wild fish.
The activists feel that even if there is no science that conclusively links the two, the mere perceived threat that salmon farming allegedly poses, should be enough to shut them down and kill over 6,600 jobs in B.C.
Fed up with the fact-deficit statements about their salmon farming operations, Sewid and other First Nations leaders gathered in Vancouver recently to send a message to the activists – stay away from our traditional territory.
“These are the same people who told us in 2009 that all the sockeye was gone and then in 2010 we had the biggest recorded run of Fraser sockeye…then they said the pink salmon was gone and we had the big pink run in 2011 and last year we had a massive chum salmon return,” said Sewid, adding he expects a healthy Fraser River sockeye run this year.
“In the sixties when there were no salmon farms and when the salmon did not return, my father had to feed his family by cleaning gutters for $10 but now we have we have the fish farms to provide us with a steady economy,” Sewid told Seawestnews.
“I guess the activists don’t like that,” said Sewid, who has been fishing and farming the oceans since he was nine.
Other First Nations leaders, have described the activists’ tactics as “redwashing” i.e. where environmental groups use aboriginal communities to advance agendas at the detriment of First Nations prosperity.
“The salmon farmers have been a real blessing for us,” said Tlowitsis Chief John Smith.
“I wish it had happened earlier and I wish we had more fish farms otherwise we would be on welfare,” said Smith, warning of economic devastation for BC’s coastal communities, should the activists succeed.
The Tlowitsis is one of 20 First Nations which have agreements with B.C.’s salmon farmers. Close to 80 percent of salmon raised on farms in B.C. is done so in partnership with First Nations generating over $1.5-billion towards the economy.
“We lost a lot of our people when the local economy dried up, we lost our language and much of our traditional way of life…now it is coming back and the fish farmers are helping our children grow,” Smith told Seawestnews.
“We as First Nations leaders have a responsibility to protect our environment and we watch over it carefully…we have done it for thousands of years and we don’t need these activists telling us what to do,” he said.
James Walkus of the Kwakiutl First Nation on Vancouver Island and one of the largest independent commercial fishermen in BC lamented the negative narrative adopted by the mainstream media about fish farming.
“Once I was interviewed for three hours by a TV reporter and nothing showed up..they aren’t interested in telling our story, so that’s why we are here today and I hope you will tell our story,” said Walkus who was at a press conference last week along with Smith and Sewid.
“They show deformed fish in pens…but there are more deformed fish in the wild..they talk about sea lice but they don’t talk about the uncontrolled large populations of sea lions and seals which are constantly eating up wild stocks..it goes on and on,” Walkus told Seawestnews.
“Aquaculture needs to continue,” Walkus said.
“The employment it creates for many of our First Nations and other Canadians is important. In Klemtu, where he operates, it is the major employer.
“We need it, British Columbia needs it, the world needs it. If we don’t do it some other country will and it will be our loss and some other country’s gain,” said Walkus.
Maurice Isaac of Tlowitsis-Namgis heritage said he’s seen great change in his time in salmon farming.
“As one of many First Nations people working in the industry I want people to know it’s not as activists are portraying it,” said Isaac, who has worked in salmon farming for 18 years.
“Nothing is ever taken lightly out here. When it comes to the environment we do everything we can to protect it, preserve it. The activists are misinformed.”
“Come visit our farm, and you will see healthy fish and modern technology. I feel I do my part in keeping wild salmon stocks alive by growing Atlantic salmon. Without this there would be no wild salmon left, in my opinion.”
“Just because some people don’t like it is no reason why salmon farming needs to be shut down…salmon farming has proven to be a sustainable industry,” Isaac told Seawestnews.