“It is frustrating to know that we have done everything right and are still being dictated to by politicians who would rather appease special interest groups and Hollywood actors.”

Salmon farming in BC’s oceans being sacrificed for political gain

“It is frustrating to know that we have done everything right and are still being dictated to by politicians who would rather appease special interest groups and Hollywood actors.”

By Isaiah Robinson
Deputy Chief Councillor
Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation

On behalf of the Kitasoo Xai’xais (KX) Nation, I acknowledge the recent decision by the Canadian government to “ban” open-net fish farms in British Columbia waters and transition to land or closed-containment systems by 2030, and in the interim to grant five-year licenses for open-net salmon pens.

While we see the five-year renewal as a step forward, providing a window for further discussion and collaboration, we are disappointed that Canada appears to be going against their word to provide a reasonable transition framework, as originally promised.

This is contrary not only to Canada’s original assurances, but to our Rights and Title over our waters and territories.

We have used and occupied, and acted as responsible stewards, of these lands and waters since time immemorial. Ultimately, any decision as to how our lands and waters are managed should proceed only with the consent of our people.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first called for this transition plan in 2019, it came with promises of collaboration with First Nations. This commitment was repeatedly reinforced by DFO Minister Diane Lebouthillier, assuring that any proposals would be draft plans incorporating ancestral wisdom and traditional knowledge of our nations.

Unfortunately, the announcement made on June 19th, 2024, falls short of the commitments we have received over the last five years. Instead, we face unilateral decisions made without our involvement, going against the promises of reconciliation, UNDRIP, and DRIPA.

With this, Canada has unilaterally announced a purported “ban” on open-net aquaculture after a set date, even in the absence of a workable, finalized, co-developed, and agreed-to transition plan.

Rather than work with First Nations, Canada has announced that it will table a draft transition plan of its own. This is both backward and contrary to reconciliation, as the timing of any closure of open-pen fish farms must be tied to and determined by a workable transition plan that has been co-developed and agreed-to by our Nation.

As part of the DFO process, we worked diligently last year to develop our own KX  Innovation Plan to support the transition of this industry from a First Nations-led perspective.

However, this effort has largely been ignored by the Government of Canada, despite claims to support economic reconciliation and self-determination. From the beginning, DFO Minister Lebouthillier has stated, and reiterated in her announcement last Wednesday, that the proposed transition plan by the Government of Canada will be “realistic, responsible, and achievable.”


  • Forcing remote communities to prototype, test, and develop innovative technology in five years is not realistic;
  • Failing to consult or listen to First Nation leaders properly, and setting a drop-dead date BEFORE a transition plan has been designed, agreed-to, and implemented is not responsible; and
  • Neglecting that we, as coastal nations, lack the infrastructure and electricity needed to run these closed containment systems makes this plan not achievable.

The setting of a drop-dead date for open-net aquaculture before a transition plan has been established is also unnecessary.

In Canada’s statement, the government states that the conditions it will be setting out for the next five years “will strengthen protections for wild species and the marine environment, while ensuring aquaculture facilities can operate safely during this transition period.”

If aquaculture facilities can operate safely during this transition period – as we believe they are and can then they can operate safely for as long as is necessary to ensure that a just transition can be co-developed, agreed to, and implemented, in a spirit of respect, cooperation and reconciliation.

Salmon aquaculture has been transformative for my community, elevating us from a 5% to a 99% employment rate, with 51% of those jobs tied directly to aquaculture. We have not had a suicide in 18 years, something we credit in no small measure to our high rate of meaningful employment. As a remote coastal nation, we know that if these year-round jobs disappear, they will not be replaced.

It is frustrating to know that we have done everything right and are still being dictated to by politicians who would rather appease special interest groups and Hollywood actors than support the people living in remote, special access communities and towns along BC’s coast.

We have built an aquaculture business that fits the capacity, lands, and waters of our territories, meets the needs of Canadians, feeds into the government’s transition to a blue economy, removes pressure from wild salmon populations, and gives our people the chance to reclaim the quality of life that was stolen from us at the time of contact. Yet all of this is being sacrificed for political gain.

So, my question to the Government of Canada and the people of BC remains: Do you want our Nation, and others, to succeed? If the answer is yes, then listen to us.

The next five years are crucial. They will determine the future of this vital industry and the relationship between First Nations and Canada.

We must be at the table to shape our own future. This is our inherent right. As we continue to work closely with our neighbouring First Nation communities and our allies in industry, it is clear that we play a critical role in both securing the future of wild stock in our territory’s waters and providing Canadians with the affordable foods they need.

However, this conversation goes beyond fish farms; this is a battle for Rights and Title, reconciliation, and government promises to First Nations. Kitasoo Xai’xais and other coastal nations won’t be told what to do in our territories – by governments, by activists, or by people who don’t live in our traditional territories and have no claim on our coastal waters. We will decide.

The courts have shown time and time again that there is a path.

We believe the path, for us, includes modern salmon aquaculture.