National Circle for Indigenous Agriculture and Food decries hearsay, activism, and negative messaging about salmon farming in B.C.

National indigenous group wants a rethink on salmon farming ban in B.C.

National Circle for Indigenous Agriculture and Food decries hearsay, activism, and negative messaging about salmon farming in B.C.

By Fabian Dawson

A national Indigenous organization is urging the Canadian government to reconsider its decision to ban open-net salmon farms in British Columbia, arguing that the move contradicts the principles of reconciliation with First Nations.

Expressing concern over the impact of the ban, that is being brought in to appease activists in exchange for their votes, the National Circle for Indigenous Agriculture and Food (NCIAF) said Ottawa needs to ensure that all voices are heard as it moves towards announcing a transition plan for the sector.

“Hearsay, activism, and negative messaging doesn’t contribute positively to the process of reconciliation,” said NCIAF President and CEO, Kallie Wood.

Wood, said the Government of Canada has stated it is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples through a renewed relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change.

This is dramatically lacking in the recent salmon farming ban announcement, said Wood, whose organization is focused on reigniting the role of Indigenous peoples in agriculture and food.

“Salmon farming is highly regulated in Canada. It has reached a significant milestone, whereby 100% of the remaining (B.C.) farm production is under agreement with local rights-holder First Nations,” said Wood.

“We celebrate this with our relatives on the West Coast and implore the government to revisit this decision and not repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said.

“Let’s join together and move forward in a good way by honoring the wisdom of First Nation voices who have been the stewards of our lands, waters, and elements since time immemorial by respecting Mother Earth, while acknowledging the insights and knowledge of western science voices that know the intricacies of salmon farms and can provide the research, data, and analytics to support a reconciled pathway forward,” NCIAF said in a statement.

Ignoring the findings of their own fisheries experts, which demonstrate that ocean-based salmon farming poses minimal risk to wild fish stocks, the Liberal government earlier this month announced the ban on open-net salmon aquaculture in BC effective after 2029.

The government will extend the current open-net salmon farming licenses, set to expire this month, for five more years. After that, only applications for closed-containment facilities on land and in water will be considered. Ottawa is also expected to release a transition plan for the sector soon.

The decision has triggered a fierce backlash from First Nation leaders, unions, the industry, and food and fishery experts and will impact over 5,000 jobs in BC and while triggering adverse ripple effects on food security across the country.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, which is fighting to retain its traditional rights to grow fish, said salmon farming in BC directly and indirectly employs over 700 Indigenous people and provides $120 million in total annual economic benefits to First Nations, with $42 million going directly to Indigenous communities.

Isaiah Robinson, Deputy Chief Councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation and a member of the Coalition described the ban as a political decision not based on science or fact.

“It’s based on the appease of white privileged activists who fearmonger false data and build anti-fish farm narratives,” he said.

Canada’s leading food scientist Dr. Sylvain Charlebois told SeaWestNews last week that Liberal Government’s ban on open-net salmon farming in British Columbia is incredibly dangerous to the nation’s food security, describing it as an   “illogical move” .

In a joint op-ed published across Canada this week, Robinson and Charlebois wrote:

“This ban on open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia, while celebrated by environmentalists, neglects the profound economic and cultural repercussions for Indigenous communities reliant on this industry. The decision also risks jeopardizing Canadians’ food security, underscoring a critical need for balanced policies that protect both our ecosystems and the livelihoods of those most impacted.”

“With this ban, Canadians are likely to see a significant erosion in domestic salmon farming and increased reliance on expensive imports. Wild salmon populations will not be able to meet domestic demand unless there is a substantial collapse in salmon consumption in Canada.”

While farm-raised salmon remains the most popular seafood choice of Canadians, it is increasingly being replaced by salmon flown in from other countries at higher prices and a larger carbon footprint, said the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA).

Brian Kingzett, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association said the ban will lead to further increased food prices and that it will be a disaster for rural British Columbia and the First Nations striving to build a future with salmon farms in their traditional territories.

(Facebook image shows members of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship at a recent press conference in Vancouver)