“As the original stewards of Canada’s coastal waters for millennia, we are calling on you to re-issue salmon farming licences in the territories of the Nations who want to pursue it.” – Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship
By Fabian Dawson
Representatives from a coalition of BC First Nations are in Ottawa this week to urge the federal government to renew 79 expiring salmon farming licences, which they say are vital for the economic well-being of coastal indigenous communities.
“As the rights and title holders of our territories, what the future of salmon farming looks like should be up to us,” said the coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship from British Columbia.
“When it comes to the Government of Canada, what we have seen and experienced is that their version of UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) is an empty box, and as chiefs and leaders, we’re in Ottawa to put something into that empty box,” the newly formed coalition said in a statement.
Addressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the coalition said: “as the original stewards of Canada’s coastal waters for millennia, we are calling on you to re-issue salmon farming licences in the territories of the Nations who want to pursue it. The time is now to start filling your empty UNDRIP box with meaningful action, dialogue, and consultation with First Nations.”
Seventeen First Nations have a variety of agreements and business arrangements with finfish aquaculture companies in BC with the longest going back over two decades. These 17 Nations make up much of the south coast of British Columbia, with supply lines in the Fraser Valley, processing plants on the Lower Mainland, and transport contracts across BC, the coalition said.
The coalition’s survey showed that direct economic benefits to First Nations in coastal BC exceed $50 million annually through more than 276 full time jobs, benefit payments, and contracts with indigenous-owned companies.
In total, when indirect and induced economic activity is factored in, First Nation interests in BC’s farmed salmon sector on and off reserves are estimated to generate $83.3 million in economic activity, $47.8 million in GDP, and 707 jobs earning $36.6 million in wages per year.
The 79 licences which are set to expire June 30, have been in limbo after the government decided to phase out salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands as part of a wider pre-election promise to develop a plan by 2025 to transition all open net salmon farms on the west coast.
According to an earlier analysis, British Columbia’s indigenous and non-indigenous coastal communities will lose more than 4,700 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity annually, if the 79 salmon farming licences are not renewed.
Federal Fisheries Minister, Joyce Murray, has said ‘the decision will be made when it needs to be made” while BC Premier John Horgan has expressed his concerns about the job losses and indigenous rights if the licences are lost.
“The federal government could learn a lesson or two from Mr. Horgan regarding reconciliation,” said the coalition.
“So far in Ottawa, we have spoken to various ministries regarding the benefits of salmon farming in our communities, as well as our Nations’ unique plans for the sector going forward which include our potential to lead Canada’s Blue Economy, and helping the country decrease its carbon footprint.
“The ministries we met with this week now know what will happen if licences aren’t renewed in our territories, and what the return to poverty would do to remote Indigenous villages.”
“Many of our people would return to poverty, and as leaders, we cannot let that happen. How can the Government of Canada put our communities on a path to poverty without any proper consultation with us? Frankly their ‘checking-the-box’ style of consultation is an insult considering what is at stake,” the coalition said.
Dallas Smith, of the Tlowitsis First Nation, who acts as the coalition’s spokesperson in a letter published in the Campbell River Mirror took a swipe at anti-aquaculture activists, who are pressuring the Liberal Government to oust open-net salmon farmers in BC.
“Unfortunately, some activists have selectively chosen content out of context as an opportunity to pit Nations against one another to suit the needs of their agenda and stir up further contention within our communities. To outsiders and well-funded activists, UNDRIP and self-determination only apply to First Nations that align with their goals, and their never-ending pressure on governments to deprive our Nations of the right to pursue salmon farming puts our communities at risk,” wrote Smith.
“Have you ever asked yourself why it is okay for a Nation to want salmon farms removed while it is not OK for other Nations to want them to remain, in light of current science and governance that supports that? And worse, these activist groups infer pro-farming Nations are being hoodwinked or taken advantage of due to them just “not understanding” the consequences of their actions. That is certainly a paternalistic view.”
(BC Gov image of Dallas Smith, Tlowitsis Nation)