“If Canada is going to walk the talk on true reconciliation, I think every Canadian would agree that the future of modern salmon farming in BC must be shaped by the coastal First Nations in whose territories the farms are located.”

First Nations call for nine-year renewal of salmon farming licences

“If Canada is going to walk the talk on true reconciliation, I think every Canadian would agree that the future of modern salmon farming in BC must be shaped by the coastal First Nations in whose territories the farms are located.”

By Fabian Dawson

Coastal First Nations in British Columbia are urging Ottawa to renew salmon farming licences in their traditional territories for a period of nine years as the Federal Government works with stakeholders to determine the future of aquaculture on Canada’s west coast.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) said the immediate renewal of long-term salmon farm licensing for nine years will encourage investments in emerging technologies as well provide First Nations time to conduct research and trials on new technologies in their territories.

The long-term licensing proposal is part of a First Nations-led, science-backed, and industry supported plan for salmon aquaculture that is responsible, realistic, and achievable, said the Coalition at a press conference held in Ottawa today.

“As conservationists, our coastal Nations have travelled thousands of kilometres to Parliament Hill to present a solution to what’s been a divisive issue in BC: a real, achievable plan for salmon farming that enables our remote communities to continue to thrive socially, economically, and culturally while working to revitalize wild salmon,” said Dallas Smith, spokesperson for the Coalition.

“We have proven we can be both salmon stewards and salmon farmers in our sovereign territories, and by asserting our rights and title with this comprehensive plan, we fully intend to lead this process to achieve what’s best for our communities,” he said.

The Coalition has delivered its plan titled, “Indigenous-led Finfish Aquaculture Transition Framework” to the new Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier stressing it will drive the social and ecological well-being for their territories and communities and enhance food security and affordability for all Canadians.

The Coalition comprises 17 BC First Nations which have agreements for farming salmon in their territories resulting in 78% of all salmon farmed in the province falling under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.

While the opportunity to sustainably produce more salmon in Canada is unparalleled in the world the Liberal government has been unduly influenced by aquaculture detractors and activists rather than relying on science and traditional indigenous knowledge to grow the industry.

The activists claim that the salmon farms in BC threaten wild migrating stocks, despite an abundance of scientific studies and court rulings that state otherwise.

There are now several legal challenges mounted by First Nations, aquaculture service and supply companies, and salmon farmers, over the decisions to shut down fish farms in British Columbia.

The Federal Government’s Transition plan, expected in 2024, will impact 79 open-net farms which have been licensed to operate till next June. It will impact about 5,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity annually.

With 40% of the fish farms in BC closed in recent years, nearly 400 jobs have already been lost, small businesses have been impacted, and food bank lines are longer in communities like Port Hardy on Northern Vancouver Island, said Smith.

“Considering the impact on remote communities, any further decision-making regarding the future of the sector must be done so with Rightsholder Nations at the table, and with their communities top of mind,” he said.

“With new technology and best practices, and the guardianship and monitoring of our Nations, the salmon farming industry is even more modern than it was 10 or even five years ago. Salmon farmers have innovated far more quickly than any other industry I work with, and at our request.

“But our Nations want to keep working with the industry to truly elevate the potential of our rich marine spaces. To do that, we need the government to also partner with us sit together at the table to implement this plan for modern, sustainable, in-ocean salmon farming that provides a realistic solution for our Nations.

“If Canada is going to walk the talk on true reconciliation, I think every Canadian would agree that the future of modern salmon farming in BC must be shaped by the coastal First Nations in whose territories the farms are located,” said Smith.

Isaiah Robinson, Deputy Chief Councillor for Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, located 800 km north of Vancouver on BC’s Central Coast, said his community now has 99 per cent employment thanks to its partnership with Mowi.

“51% of our income comes from the salmon farming sector. It makes no sense to shut it down. There is no industry that can fill that space,” said Robinson.

The Kitasoo/Xai’Xais began farming and processing salmon in the late 1980’s, forming a partnership for the business with Mowi in 1998, the first agreement developed by a salmon farming company and a First Nation in British Columbia.

Robinson said the partnership with Mowi pulled his community out from a dark era of depression, poverty, and suicides.

“Because of the work and dignity that comes with the salmon farming industry, we have had no suicides in my community of Klemtu for the past 18 years. Think about that,” said Robinson.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) has said a predictable licensing regime based on partnerships with First Nations and science-based aquaculture decisions, will create almost 10,000 new jobs and add a cumulative $44 billion in new economic activity to propel Canada’s Blue Economy.

At a glance

The “Indigenous-led Finfish Aquaculture Transition Framework” which has been delivered to Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier requires specific commitments to succeed, said the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship. They include:

  • Government investment in territory-specific Indigenous-led science, technology, and stewardship.
  • Greater investment and broader, territory-specific siting and implementation of new barrier and monitoring technologies.
    The completion of social and economic impact studies in First Nations communities to understand the significance of the presence of the modern salmon-farming sector.
  • Greater trust and transparency in data-sharing between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, industry, ENGOs and First Nations.
  • The creation of a new Indigenous Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (ICAHS) in Campbell River to unite western science and Traditional Knowledge in modern scientific methods, as well as provide a coastal training centre for Guardian Watchmen and scientific capacity building for Indigenous communities.
  • The immediate renewal of long-term salmon farm licensing (9 years) for investment security and growth.

IMAGE – (L to R) – Members of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship at the Press Conference in Ottawa today. At the podium is Dallas Smith, coalition spokesperson. On his left is Isaiah Robinson, Deputy Chief Councillor for the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation.