In a disturbing ruling, the Federal court has rejected intervenor status by five First Nations in the Discovery Islands’ salmon farming dispute, opting to hear submissions from activists perpetuating the ‘Big Lie’ about aquaculture in BC.

Federal Court snubs First Nations in salmon farming dispute

In a disturbing ruling, the Federal court has rejected intervenor status by five First Nations in the Discovery Islands’ salmon farming dispute, opting to hear submissions from activists perpetuating the ‘Big Lie’ about aquaculture in BC.

By Fabian Dawson

The Federal Court has refused to hear from five First Nations whose traditional territories are at the heart of the controversial decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands.

Instead, the court is allowing a group of anti-fish farm activists, whose claims have been discredited by regional, national and international peer reviewed scientific studies, to intervene in the case.

“It is simply shocking and makes a mockery of Canada’s promise to respect traditional knowledge and vows of reconciliation with First Nations involved in salmon farming,” said an industry official, reacting to the court’s ruling, released this week.

The Homalco First Nation and Tla’amin Nation [collectively referred to as Sister Nations in the court file] and the We Wai Kai Nation, Wei Wai Kum First Nation and Kwiakah First Nation [collectively, Laichkwiltach Nation] had sought intervenor status after the fish farmers applied for an injunction pending a judicial review of the decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

The activists, including self-proclaimed independent biologist Alexandra Morton, who have been perpetuating the big lie that salmon farms in BC are responsible for dwindling wild stocks despite voluminous science that show it not to be true, have banded together as the ‘Conservation Coalition’.

While dismissing the claims of the First Nations “in its entirety”, The Federal Court allowed the ‘Conservation Coalition’ submissions to “help inform the Court’s consideration of whether the Minister’s decision was reasonable and fair.”

The application for a judicial review and an injunction were made by Mowi Canada West Inc., Cermaq Canada Ltd. and Grieg Seafood B.C. Ltd, who have operated 19 farms in the Discovery Islands for the last 35 years with minimal impact on wild stocks, according to nine-peer reviewed scientific studies by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS).

For the nine risk assessments, the sources included both international and Canadian experts –  including First Nations, ENGOs, academic and aquaculture industry experts – from a wide variety of disciplines. The conclusions were generated through the CSAS peer-review process and represented the consensus of the scientific advice of the participants.

But Morton and her allies, have denounced the studies and embraced the central conspiracy theory that any science running counter to their claims that ocean-based fish farms endanger wild stocks, should not be believed because it is bought and paid for by the aquaculture industry.

Minister Jordan, in making her sudden pre-Christmas decision that will have devastating impacts for North Vancouver Island resulting in about 1,500 job losses, admitted that science took a back seat to social licence.

In addition to ignoring the science, Minister Jordan also rebuffed the recommendations by her deputy minister  for a more coordinated approach to the planned phase out within 18 months.

Minister Jordan said her decision, including the ban on any transfer of baby fish to the Discovery Islands pens during the phase out period, was made after consultation with the seven Discovery Islands First Nations.

But that rings hollow in the face of an affidavit filed with the Federal Court by Steven Dick, Chief of the Kwiakah First Nation, Chief Ronnie Chickite of the We Wai Kai First Nation and Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.

Prior to Minister Jordan’s decision, Chief Dick had been negotiating with Mowi for the decommissioning of the Phillips Arm farm site, which is operating in their traditional treaty.

“We negotiated an agreement in good faith with Mowi to allow them one more cycle, following which they agreed to wind up their operations at Phillips Arm and assist us in cleaning up the site,” said Chief Dick in his affidavit.

“Our plan is to have the Mowi site shut down after their last cycle, fully remediated, and then turned over to Kwiakah.

“As the title-holders to Phillips Arm, we expect our agreement with Mowi and our future plans for the tenure at that location to be respected.”

But the minister’s immediate ban on transfer of fish in the Discovery Islands during the phase out period has put this agreement in jeopardy, compelling Mowi Canada West to kill 12 million healthy juvenile Atlantic salmon, because they have no place to go. This unnecessary slaughter, if stopped, could provide 235 million meals, said Mowi.

Prior to this week’s Federal Court ruling to shut out the First Nations from the judicial review, Chief Chris Roberts of Wei Wai Kum First Nation said they were given inadequate time to have a “pragmatic dialogue” with Minister Jordan and were dissatisfied with the way the Discovery Islands’ process was conducted.

“The First Nations were left with no alternatives, nor were they given the opportunity to arrive at an autonomous decision through the principles of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Instead they were left ‘wearing the decision’ the federal government made for them,” the Campbell River Mirror quoted him as saying.

Former We Wai Kai chief Brian Assu said they were “railroaded” by the federal government’s decision.

“We literally had 30 minutes between We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum to consult with the minister and out of that, 15 minutes of it basically was telling us that she was going to announce her decision,” said Assu, according to the news report.

“When I say we got railroaded, I really truly mean that… That’s our traditional territory and the (federal) government decided to base their decision on all external parties to us – including other First Nations. It was a mess.”

The seven First Nations in the area generally agree with the ultimate result to phase out fish farms in their traditional territories but said the process was filled with “missed opportunities”.

The fish farmers have acknowledge that they may not be able to operate in the Discovery Islands because of Minister Jordan’s unilateral and discretionary decision.

“But there is no reason to stop the production cycle during the phase out period to let our fish grow to harvest size as some of the First Nations have agreed to,” said an industry official.

Twenty 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.

Farmed Atlantic salmon is BC’s top international food export at $562 million playing a key role in the local and sustainable food supply, while supporting about 6,500 full-time, year round jobs near rural and remote Vancouver Island, Central Coast, and Sunshine Coast communities.

In its entirety, Jordan’s unexpected Discovery Islands’ decision will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits, and 1,535 fewer jobs mainly in coastal communities.

Prior to the Discovery Islands’ decision, BC’s salmon farmers announced they were planning to directly invest $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology and infrastructure, to boost Canada’s post pandemic recovery. The investments through 2050 would create almost 10,000 new jobs and add a cumulative $44 billion in new economic activity to propel Canada’s Blue Economy.

However, the decision has put a chill on many of the projects planned by BC’s salmon farmers.

Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation told SeaWestNews earlier this week that he has written to Minister Jordan requesting the federal government commit to a strategy to mitigate the economic impact on people and communities on northern Vancouver Island.

“We have not received a response from Minister Jordan,” said Kahlon.

(Image – Damon Rampanen, Cermaq Canada assistant manager, is one of the many First Nations people who work in B.C.’s fish farming sector | BC Salmon Farmers Association)