Anti-salmon farm activists are signalling that the collective and individual rights of First Nations should be disregarded when it comes to marine aquaculture operations in traditional territories

Anti-salmon farm activists trample on First Nations’ rights

Anti-salmon farm activists are signalling that the collective and individual rights of First Nations should be disregarded when it comes to marine aquaculture operations in traditional territories

By Fabian Dawson

Anti-aquaculture activists in British Columbia are calling on the federal and provincial governments to ignore the indigenous rights of First Nations who want new and continued salmon farming operations in their traditional territories.

Some 20 BC First Nations have partnership agreements for farming salmon in their territories resulting in 80% of all salmon farmed in BC falling under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.

But the activists want these agreements torn up and all pending and future salmon farm tenure applications, made in tandem with the BC First Nations, ignored.

Signalling their intentions that trample on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), which BC has adopted to ensure the individual and collective rights of First Nation populations, the activists said salmon farmers are proposing 12 site expansions and a new salmon farm on Canada’s west coast.

“All changes to existing farms or for proposed new farms are in concert with First Nations and we respect and support their rights to self-determination and governance of their territories,” said John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

Stan Proboszcz, of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, one of four signatories in a press release said all proposed salmon farm expansions should be denied by the government, echoing demands by the David Suzuki Foundation, Living Oceans Society and Clayoquot Action.

“It is outrageous that DFO would even consider increasing fish farm capacity or production levels in, of all places, Clayoquot Sound,” said Dan Lewis of Clayoquot Action.

The press release makes no mention of indigenous rights of the First Nations involved in salmon farming but trots out widely discredited claims about the impact of farmed fish on wild stocks.

Another activist, who has culturally appropriated a First Nations identity, in a recent video presentation said: “there are Nations that are hell bent on having these farms and are ignoring everything, and I don’t think we can give them that autonomy.”

She was responding to a question by the host who asked : “What about First Nations who support this industry – knowing we have to be careful to not tell them what to do?”

Among the pending applications before the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is one for an additional salmon farm in the Clio Channel, jointly submitted by the Tlowitsis First Nation and Grieg Seafood BC Ltd.

The Clio Channel waterway lies near the Discovery Islands, where former federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan ordered the closure of 19 salmon aquaculture sites at the behest of anti-fish farming activists, who had threatened to withhold votes for her Liberal party during the last election.

Jordan made the order after rebuffing her own scientists who conducted nine studies in the Discovery Islands to conclude that the farms, which have been operating in the area for more than three decades pose less than a minimal risk to wild stocks.

The fish farmers are now awaiting the decision of a Federal Court judicial review of the former minister’s decision.

“Adding more farms in our territory is the clear way forward,’ said Chief John Smith of the Tlowitsis First Nation after submitting the joint application for a new farm site to raise another 4,400 tonnes of salmon.

“We have built a solid relationship with Grieg Seafood over more than ten years of many meetings, visiting their farms and travelling to Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria to speak to regulators about our views of aquaculture,” said Chief Smith, whose Nation also has a net-cleaning agreement for three salmon farms operated by Grieg Seafood BC in the Clio Channel.

In Clayoquot Sound, where several applications are pending for increased production, the Ahousaht First Nation works closely with salmon farming company, Cermaq.

“Sustainable economic development is a challenge for our remote community…We have our eyes and ears on the farm sites because our people work there. There is no better way to monitor our environment than to be involved in the day-to-day operations. We believe our farms are operated sustainably and produce a healthy product.  

Jobs and training opportunities have been created for our youth. Our protocol agreement supports jobs that support our families and raise their standard of living. We believe Cermaq has been a good partner for our nation,” reads a statement on the Nation’s website.

The Kitasoo/Xai’Xais First Nation has an agreement with Mowi Canada West for economic development and employment centred around salmon farming and processing in Klemtu, British Columbia. Mowi has applied for a tenure size increase in this area.

“The Kitasoo/Xai’Xais have strict protocols for companies operating in our Territory, particularly with respect to the environment, which is our top priority,” said Chief Roxanne Robinson, after signing a 10-year agreement with the fish farmer.

“Mowi has shown respect for our waters, and our people, we look forward to seeing sustainable salmon farming and processing continuing in our Territory”, said Chief Robinson.

More recently in Campbell River,  the We Wai Kai First Nation was granted $144, 200 to explore the possible environmental impacts and determine potential business benefits of sablefish aquaculture.

The Gwabalis Fisheries Society – a partnership of the Mamalilikulla, Da’naxda’xw, Quatsino and Tlatlasikwala First Nations on Vancouver Island, also received $107,167 to undertake an area-wide survey to identify, assess, and report on sustainable aquaculture operations in their member Nations’ respective traditional territories.

The funding was part of $7.9 million in grants announced under the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF).

The Aboriginal Aquaculture Association (AAA) based in Campbell River states that after 30 years of research, sablefish is a priority candidate for commercial cultivation in B.C.

“A potential opportunity also exists where First Nations could work with B.C. salmon farming companies to set up (sablefish) production at existing idle farms, using surplus equipment,” said the AAA.

Other First Nations leaders in BC have described activist campaigns that erode indigenous decision making rights as “eco-colonisation.”

Calvin Helin, a leading authority on economic independence for First Nations and a member of the Tsimshian Nation, in a previously published interview said “these eco-colonialists get paid when they shut things down in Canada.”

“Under the guise of environmental concern, they keep First Nations peoples in poverty and restrict economic growth,” he said.

“We have been watching over our seas and lands for over 10,000 years and we don’t need these big-city folk and activists with huge American foundation money coming up here to tell us what to do…they have no regard for our communities and keep us from moving forward.”

Helin, has described the partnerships between First Nations groups and the aquaculture industry as examples of people working together for a better future.

“We are moving from welfare to wealth management and a lot of chiefs are beginning to understand how these activists work…the easiest thing for these activists is to be negative because they don’t build anything,” said Helin.

(Image courtesy of the Tlowitsis First Nation, which has made a joint application with Grieg Seafood BC for an additional salmon farm in the Clio Channel)