By Roy L Hales
Marine Harvest did not have the consent of local First Nations, when they set up an open net fish farm off Swanson Island farm thirty-one-years ago. They did not need it, with a Social Credit government ruling British Columbia. Only this is 2017, the courts recognize aboriginal title, and Premier John Horgan is more conscious of First Nation’s concerns. At the invitation of Chief Bob Chamberlain of Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, Horgan and three of his top cabinet ministers visited Alert Bay. They met with forty Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) leaders, who demanded Horgan remove the Broughton Archipelago’s open net fish farms.
Remove the Broughton Archipelago’s Open-Net Fish Farms
The hereditary and elected leaders of the Mamalilikala, ‘Namgis, Tlowitsis, Mamtagila, and Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw (Dzawada’enuxw, Kwiḵwa̱sut̓inux̱w, Ha̱xwa’mis and Gwawaenuk) were there.
Chief Chamberlain later expressed his pleasure at this meeting with the Premier, as no previous provincial had listened to their concerns so directly.
The Kwakwaka’wakw leaders gave Horgan a list of demands:
- “No restocking of existing empty pens/sites;
- “No use of hydrogen peroxide to be used to treat sea lice infestations;
- “No renewal of licences and/or tenures; and
- “For the industry to remove all open-net cage fish farms sites from the collective territorial waters.”
They added that the government has legal obligations under its “commitment to honour the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
There are also lucrative alternatives to open net fish farms.
The Namgis experiment with on land fish farming, Kuterra, “can be characterized as an opportunity to be a world leader with appropriate supports provided to other emerging industry evolution.”
Ecotourism is already a 3.8 billion industry,
There may have been differing opinions among the Ministers accompanying Horgan. Claire Trevena, the Minister of Transportation, made her opposition to fish farms known during the last election campaign. More recently the NDP’s Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, said she is committed to working with the province’s aquaculture sector and protecting wild salmon.
Horgan’s response appears to be limited to a promise that the discussion will contue. This includes a future meeting”in support of wild salmon” with a Kwakwaka’wakw delegation.
Popham will convey First Nations “concerns with the Federal Minister for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and press the federal government to work with us, Indigenous communities and industry to map out a sustainable future.”
“Any strategy for aquaculture must put a priority on the protection of wild salmon, collaborate with First Nations and acknowledge their interests, involve the federal government and recognize that the industry now generates nearly $800 million in annual value, while supporting several thousand jobs in rural and coastal areas,” said Horgan.
BC Salmon Farmers Association Responds
“Salmon farms have legally operated in this area for the past 30 years and continue to operate today, providing thousands of jobs, and healthy salmon for people to eat. Our members remain committed to meeting with First Nations to deal with their concerns and work towards a long-term solution, and we have expressed this to the Nations directly and to the Provincial government. Salmon farmers have agreements with First Nations in every other operating area, many of which go back over 20 years – we have a history of finding solutions to difficult issues,” responded Jeremy Dunn, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
The +40 Day Occupation
Meanwhile, a crises is looming.
“Over the past several years, we have contacted the Namgis First Nation to request a meeting to discuss our business. To date, we have not had a meeting,” Marine Harvest company spokesperson Ian Roberts told the Times Colonist.
On August 24, a group of ‘Namgis occupied Marine Harvests’ Swanson Island facility – where the first fish farm was established in their traditional territory.
A week later, Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw moved onto the company’s Midsummer Island salmon feedlot.
According to the Kwakwaka’wakw press release, “Leadership also conveyed respect and appreciation of the peaceful occupation that has been occurring for over forty (40) days on the two fish farms in the area by members of their Nations.”
As no resolution came out of Wednesday’s meeting, the occupiers invited “all Wild Salmon nations to join them this Saturday (Oct. 14), in solidarity at Swanson Island.”
“The leaders remain committed to the removal of open-net fish farms from their collective territorial waters to provide safeguard for migrating salmon that affect the lives of all First Nations listed above, including those of the Fraser River. It has been made clear that the occupations will continue until such time.”