Anti-salmon farming activists pit First Nation against First Nation

Many First Nations, who supposedly have lent their support to an anti-fish farming lobby group, are themselves involved in projects that pose a myriad of dangers to wild salmon populations.

By Fabian Dawson

Anti-fish farm activist Bob Chamberlin never loses an opportunity to say that he has the support of 120 First Nations in his quest to destroy British Columbia’s salmon aquaculture industry.

What Chamberlin does not say is that many of these First Nations, who supposedly have lent their support to a petition by his anti-fish farming lobby group, are themselves involved in mega projects that pose a myriad of dangers to wild salmon populations.

Most of them also do not have any meaningful participation or involvement with aquaculture said Dallas Smith, a spokesman for the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, which supports   Indigenous communities in BC that want salmon farming in their traditional territories.

“With the exception of maybe half a dozen other nations, none of them have a fish farm or aquaculture site within 150 miles of where their territory is,” said Smith, in a recent edition of the Salmon Farming: Inside & Out podcast. 

Smith said at least 15 of the First Nations on the so-called petition are involved directly with the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, which recently began carrying crude oil from Alberta to Burnaby in BC.

“There’s another 60 nations on that list that are involved in water rights issues impacting salmon runs along the Fraser River,” he said.

Smith also pointed out that the Coastal Gas Link, the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 and several LNG projects, all of which have triggered environmental concerns over the impact on wild fish populations, are supported by many of the First Nations that have purportedly signed the petition.

Chamberlin and his cabal of aquaculture detractors have also been signalling that the government should ignore the rights of First Nations who see salmon farming in their traditional territories as a pathway for economic reconciliation. Currently in BC, all the existing salmon farms are supported by the First Nations communities that they operate in.

Smith stressed that his Coalition is not opposed to any of the mega projects as First Nations involved with them can be trusted to protect their traditional lands and waters on their journey towards economic reconciliation.

“We are asking for the same trust…We as nations of the coast, trust the nations along the Fraser River that are dependent on salmon to make decisions that mitigate any impacts to that resource. But for some reason, we’re not given that same benefit.

“Reconciliation has to have one set of rules and a set of principles that we all work within,” said Smith, a member of the Tlowitsis First Nations in Campbell River.

Smith’s comments come as the Federal government is currently considering renewing the soon-to-expire salmon farming licenses for a period of between six and nine years, pending the formulation of a Transition Plan for the sector in the province.

Chamberlin and his activist group held a Press Conference in Vancouver this week to claim there is widespread support from First Nation communities to ban open-net salmon farms in British Columbia.

Organized by well-funded urban activist groups, the media session was aimed to leverage and hype-up the opposition to salmon farming.

“Some groups are using this divisive tactic as a means to pit First Nations against First Nations in this whole salmon conversation…and we’ve started to push back,” said Smith.

“A lot of the nations that they claim are dead set against us just want to understand what we’re doing and how we’re mitigating some of the concerns that they’ve heard about… we’ve been reaching out to them.”

Earlier this month, the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, released a comprehensive report, to reinforce the socio-economic importance of the sector and stressed that the future of salmon farming in BC must be determined by First Nations who want to farm fish in their traditional territories.

The ‘scientific textbook’ called Modern Salmon Farming in British Columbia: A Review, is also aimed at closing the knowledge gaps about the industry and counter the campaign of disinformation by anti-salmon farming opponents.

Isaiah Robinson, a councillor for the Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation, which has been farming salmon in their traditional territory for decades, responded to the activists on social media stating:

“We know our waters, we steward our waters, and this includes the wild salmon and farmed salmon.

“Our future should not be decided by people hundreds or thousands of kilometres away, nor by people who are more concerned about their sport fishing than the actual wild salmon. All of whom have no understanding or accountability regarding the livelihood of Coastal First Nations. We, the Kitasoo Xai’xais, are salmon farmers and salmon stewards. Our approach to modern salmon farming removes the pressure from wild pacific salmon.”

Salmon farming in BC directly and indirectly employs over 700 Indigenous people and provides $120 million in total annual direct and indirect economic benefits to First Nations, with $42 million going directly to Indigenous communities.

Taken as a whole, the entire sector generates over $1.142 billion of direct economic activity in BC annually supporting approximately 6,000 direct and indirect jobs.

(Submitted image of Dallas Smith speaking at the recent Indigenous Resource Opportunities Conference).