“Our coalition is opposed to the federal government disregarding science and bowing to unfounded activist claims on salmon farming that, if heeded, will severely damage our communities, and deny our rights and title,” - Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship

Respect our rights to salmon farming say First Nations

“Our coalition is opposed to the federal government disregarding science and bowing to unfounded activist claims on salmon farming that, if heeded, will severely damage our communities, and deny our rights and title,” – Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship

By Fabian Dawson

A coalition of BC First Nations is calling on the Federal Government to respect their Indigenous rights and title and immediately re-issue soon-to expire salmon farming licences in their traditional territories.

“Our coalition is opposed to the federal government disregarding science and bowing to unfounded activist claims on salmon farming that, if heeded, will severely damage our communities, and deny our rights and title,” said the coalition in a statement.

“Salmon farming has lifted entire coastal Indigenous communities out of poverty. It injects money into our communities, creates meaningful employment for our members, provides opportunities for First Nations-owned business to supply the sector, and funds projects that contribute to the wellness of our people and wild salmon,” it said.

“As coastal Nations, wild salmon are our priority, and we would not put centuries of stewardship at risk for short-term gains. Participating Nations of this coalition recognize science shows that responsible salmon farming does not adversely impact wild salmon.”

The statement and an accompanying economic impact survey was released by the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) Coast Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw, Tsimshian and Nuu-Chah-Nulth Territories at a media conference this morning in Campbell River. The event was attended by North Vancouver Island mayors, MLAs, and members of the salmon farming industry.

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 report, 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.

“DFO Minister Joyce Murray is listening to everyone but the Nations that will suffer the most if licences aren’t renewed. To date, many of the chiefs and leaders in our coalition have reached out to the Minister and they have either been ignored or told that the Minister will go ahead with her agenda to transition farms out of the water in their territories, despite their concerns, and without their input or consent. This is not reconciliation,” said the coalition.

“The leaders of this coalition urge politicians not to listen to the misinformed, often urban and far-removed, minority and respect the rights of First Nations to govern in their territories as they need.”

Dallas Smith, spokesperson for FNFFS, Tlowitsis Nation said BC’s First Nations are positioned to lead Canada’s Blue Economy, but that potential can only be realized when Nations have the support, and the right, to carve out their own unique paths to economic self-determination.

“This applies to Nations that wish to pursue salmon farming. The leaders of this coalition understand that what works for one Nation might not work for another, and we respect that each Nation, as Rightsholders, can decide for themselves what the transition of salmon farming means to them,” he said.

Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation said, “for us as a Nation, and as part of the Laich-Kwil-Tach speaking Nations, this is about more than just the future of fisheries within our territory. This is about acknowledging the sovereign rights we hold over our territory and our ability to govern our territory.”

Hasheukumiss, Richard George, son of Tyee Hawiih of the Ahousaht First Nation said the community’s protocol agreement with fish farmer, Cermaq, covers a wide range of topics including environmental stewardship, employment, benefit sharing arrangements, and wild salmon projects.

“Cermaq has done more for wild salmon conservation and restoration in our territory than the Federal or Provincial Governments combined,” he said.

On British Columbia’s central coast, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, the   Kitasoo/Xai’xais community    holds six of the 79 soon-to-expire salmon farm licences.

“Kitasoo Xai’xais has not only embraced salmon farming for decades but has carefully controlled its development and monitors potential impacts to the environment throughout the year,” said the First Nation’s Chief Doug Neasloss.

“Kitasoo owns all the salmon farm tenures and has strict operating protocols with Mowi. The authority of our Nation must be acknowledged and included in decisions that impact our rights to self-determination, self-government, and resource management,” he said.

The chiefs and leaders of the coalition said they expect the Federal Government to reissue the licences of salmon farms in the territories of the Nations who wish to continue pursuing relationships with the sector.

Anti-aquaculture activists in BC claim they have the support of 100 First Nations who want to see the open net salmon farms removed.

“While activists don’t tend to respect the rights and title of First Nations who don’t align with their agendas, the federal and provincial governments have the opportunity to see these licence re-issuances as a path forward to partnership, prosperity, self-determination, and the health and future wellness of Indigenous communities,” the First Nations leaders said.

On Minister Murray’s mandate to come up with a plan to transition all open net salmon farms in BC by 2025, the coalition said the process provides a historic opportunity for government to truly realize reconciliation and the sovereignty and rights of First Nations in Canada.

“Reissuing these licences with a minimum six-year term gives First Nations working with salmon farming the time to properly engage with their communities, government-to-government, and with the sector on the 2025 aquaculture transition plans,” it said.

“While it isn’t clear what the federal government’s definition of ‘transitioning’ the sector is, this coalition is firm that it should not mean reducing or taking away salmon farming in their territories because that would take away from First Nations communities and families.

“This coalition expects any transition plans to be built on the true intent of reconciliation; to represent the Nations’ autonomous yet connected voices; to respect rights and title; and to deliver positive outcomes for Indigenous communities, for their territories’ unique ecosystems, and all of coastal British Columbia,”

(First Nations chiefs and leaders, alongside MLAs and North Vancouver Island Mayors at an event yesterday calling on the Federal Government to renew 79 soon-to-expire salmon farming licences in BC – Image courtesy of the FNFFS)