First Nations’ leaders call for ouster of Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray following her controversial, unscientific and damaging decision to shut down salmon farms in BC

Minister can’t be “trusted” say salmon farming First Nations

First Nations’ leaders call for ouster of Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray following her controversial, unscientific and damaging decision to shut down salmon farms in BC

By Fabian Dawson

A coalition of First Nations is calling for the removal of Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray saying she can’t be “trusted” to make a thoughtful and unbiased plan in regard to the future of salmon farming in British Columbia.

Murray, a prominent advocate to end open-net salmon farming in BC, recently ordered the shutdown of salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands, walking back on commitments to respect the rights of First Nations who want the aquaculture operations in their traditional territories.

The decision to close the farms was made despite the government’s own scientists producing 10 extensive peer-reviewed reports showing the marine operations have virtually no impact on wild stocks migrating through the area.

At a Press conference today, Chiefs and leaders of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS), who are in Ottawa to meet with Federal officials, also slammed the activists trying to shut down their traditional livelihoods.

“After the disrespectful and damaging decision to close salmon farms in my territory in the Discovery Islands without consent of Rightsholder First Nations, we as a Coalition can no longer trust that Minister Murray can deliver a thoughtful, unbiased transition plan for the remaining salmon farms in the sovereign territories of Nations that wish to host them,” said Chris Roberts, Elected Chief Councillor of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.

“It makes no sense that the Government of Canada is trying to shut down any sustainable salmon farming supported by Nations when DFO’s own science says just that – it is sustainable. “We call on Prime Minister Trudeau and his entire Cabinet to ensure a clear and transparent transition process with a new and unbiased Minister who understands our issues and respects reconciliation, science, the environment and the economy for everyone,” he said.

“We are the original environmentalists, not the fancy downtown activists. We have stewarded wild salmon for thousands of years, and our guardians and monitors continue to protect it. We protect the wild salmon while at the same time exploring opportunities of a growing sustainable salmon farming industry that supports the future of our communities in keeping with the laws and traditions of our people,” said Chief Roberts.

In BC, where fish farmers are under intense attacks by mainly urban-based aquaculture detractors, about 20 BC First Nations have partnership agreements for farming salmon in their territory producing 78% of all salmon farmed in the province.

Farm-raised salmon is BC’s highest valued seafood product, the province’s top agricultural export, and generates over $1.2 billion towards the provincial economy, creating thousands of jobs. About 97 per cent of salmon produced in Canada is farm-raised.

Forty per-cent of salmon farms have already been removed from B.C. waters to date, and the result has been damaging economically to coastal communities, the Coalition said in a media statement. It has also increased the cost of farmed salmon to Canadian families and resulted in a bigger carbon footprint because it is being flown in from countries like Norway and Chile.

“We are very worried, and Canadians should be worried too. Minister Murray is on a path to reduce or eliminate salmon farming in Canada. She is ignoring the science of her own department. She is ignoring our voices, and has demonstrated she can’t be trusted,” said Isaiah Robinson, Councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation.

“Canadians in any resource industry would resent their jobs being wiped out by the bias of one Minister in Ottawa, especially when there are no new jobs in their communities to replace them.

“Like other Canadians, we want our people to have good jobs. And like other Canadians, we want families to be able to afford healthy food. These government policies are making salmon more expensive for everyone,” said Robinson.

Some of the activists, have also been calling on Minister Murray to force all salmon farms to be built on land, despite feasibility reports showing that large-scale land-based salmon farming is not yet viable economically or technologically.

A new BC government report projected that it will be at least 10 years before a significant land-based salmon production sector is operating at a steady rate in BC.

It mirrors an earlier government report – The State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study released in February 2020 which warned that growing fish on land requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

“Land-based is not possible in these Nations’ territories. The B.C. government conducted its own feasibility study on whether it is viable, and it is not,” said Albert Charlie, Hereditary Chief and Councillor of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation.

“Forcing First Nations to ‘transition’ to land-based technology that isn’t ready means they will lose the industry completely and their communities will be devastated.”

Members of the Coalition are in Ottawa this week to highlight the negative impacts arising from the closure of salmon farms on Indigenous rights and title issues, food security, affordability, jobs, and reconciliation in rural, coastal and Indigenous communities. 

At the same time a group of activists along with some First Nations leaders opposed to salmon farming met with Murray urging her not to renew the licences of the remaining salmon farms in BC. A decision on the licence renewals is expected soon.

The Coalition said it understands that some Nations want a different path for salmon farming and urged them to put forward their input on the transition of the salmon farming sector in BC.

“We invite our fellow Nations to sit down together on this issue, Nation-to-Nation,” said Hereditary Chief Harvey Robinson of the Kitasoo Xai’xais.

“Let’s listen to one another – and respect one another, we all want to do what’s best for our own territories.”

(Facebook image of Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray)