The pens of a fish farm

The First Nations calling for a renewal of fish farm licenses

Editor’s note: The licenses for 79 fish farms will come up for renewal by the end of June, 2022. If the Department of Fisheries fails to reissue them, there will only be seven farms left in the province. These are all in the Broughton Archipelago and their licenses come up for renewal in 2023. 

On March 21, a group of what was supposedly 17 First Nations supporting the fish farming industry put out a press release. Cortes Currents is not on the First Nations for Finfish Stewardship email list, and at that point had not heard of the group. We subsequently asked Dallas Smith, spokesperson for this coalition, for an interview. When he did not reply, Cortes Currents published a write-up largely based on that original press release. Within hours of posting a link through social media, someone directed Cortes Currents to independent biologist Alexandra Morton’s Facebook page where there was evidence that this group of 17 was at best 12 and more likely 11 First Nations. Since then, the list has grown smaller. 

Photo of Dallas Smith from when he was the BC Liberal candidate in North Island the 2017 provincial election

So, where does this idea that there are 17 nations originate?

The earliest reference Cortes Currents is aware of is the BC Salmon Farmers Association press release, and associated report, of Feb 23, 2020, which states, “BC Salmon Farmers hold agreements with 17 First Nations on B.C.’s coast.”

When asked for the names of these nations, a company spokesperson informed Cortes Currents, “Due to the sensitive nature of the agreements with Nations, we do not currently have permission to share this information. We require consent from both the companies and Nations before sharing this information.”

The First Nations for Finfish Stewardship press release, and a very polished 20 page report whose author is not identified, came out a month later. While a great many ‘facts’ are presented, few sources are given. However the names of 17 First Nations were displayed on a map.  

Screenshot of the original Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship map published on Mar 21, 2022 – courtesy Alexandra Morton’s facebook page.

Morton told Cortes Currents,  “There are some interesting omissions, for example, the Shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation is not on there, and they have a whole bunch of salmon farms. Neither are the Mowachaht/Muchalaht, or the Nuu-chah-nulth, which have a lot of salmon farms in their territory, but they are not on that map. So something must be going on.”

Almost immediately after the map was published, four of the names were removed.  

The anonymous author explained, “Every First Nation is taking their own approach to these relationships. Some are in favour of industry and others have decided not to have salmon farms in their territories. Not all Nations with agreements are shown in this map.”

Three of the nations whose names were removed are from the Broughton Archipelago, the Mamalilikulla, Namgis and Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nations (collectively referred to as the “Broughton First Nations”).

They issued a joint press release stating they were deeply offended by the actions of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship:

“The Broughton First Nations have individually and collectively opposed the presence of open net-pen feedlots of Atlantic salmon in their territories for decades. The Broughton First Nations have never consented to the operation of open net-pen feedlots in their territories.”

The Chiefs of two of these nations and a councillor from the third are actually cited as co-authors of the scientific paper Salmon lice in the Pacific Ocean show evidence of evolved resistance to parasiticide treatment, published on March 28. Their contribution was to give the independent scientists working on this paper access to data they had long sought, but not previously experienced. This was made possible because of the oversight and managerial role the Broughton Nations were recently given.  

One more name was removed from that original map. On Facebook, Chief Kevin Peacey explained, “Klahoose should not be on there.”

Once it became apparent that this group was not as large as it claimed, Alexandra Morton put out a query to the other First Nations whose names were displayed. 

Consequently, Chief Nicole Rempel of the K’omoks First Nation wrote, “previous Chief signed us up in 2014 or 2015 I think, without consulting community and I’ve been trying to get us out of it since 2017. Our community members do not want us to be connected with them.”

Jared Qwustenuxun Williams posted, “I’ve brought this directly to our Tribal Council, who are flabbergasted at such false claims. COWICHAN DOES NOT SUPPORT FISH FARMS.”

There were also comments suggesting that the names of the We Wai Kai and Ahousaht Nations should not be displayed. 

Dan Lewis of Clayoquot of Clayoquot Action confirmed the latter during an unrelated interview. Lewis informed Cortes Currents that the Ahousaht protocol agreement with Cermaq Canada expired about a year ago.

He added, “Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation does not have a protocol agreement and their leadership, their elected and hereditary leaders, voted unanimously to get salmon farms out of their territory in 2019, and then COVID hit. So neither company operating in the Biosphere Region has a protocol agreement.”

As if this was not bad enough, it appears there are also questions as to whether Dallas Smith’s own nation, the Tlowitus Nation, should be speaking as the sole representative for what is allegedly their traditional territory. The Ma’a̱mtagila Nation claim that a large portion of it is their ancestral territory and they are opposed to fish farms.

As Chief Ernest Alfred recently explained in a recent press conference given by the Ma’amtagila and three other  Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw nations, “The Ma’a̱mtagila own this area! They own this area, but it isn’t exclusive. You need to understand that this is disputed territory.”

The First Nations for Finfish Stewardship is a much smaller group that they represent themselves to be, but they still deserve a voice in this debate.   

Their report does not give any sources for the following facts:

“The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million. These include 276 full-time jobs, benefit payments, and contracts with Indigenous-owned companies that provide further employment to First Nations communities.”

The anonymous author of this report alleges that when indirect and induced economic activities are factored in, they claim 707 jobs and more than $83 million would be lost.

Three First Nations leaders are quoted in the press release.

Smith, who is also spokesperson for the Tlowitsus Nation explained, “As stewards of the coast for millennia, 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 rights holders, can decide for themselves what the transition of salmon farming means to them. How the sector will be managed and overseen in each territory will look as unique as the Nations themselves.” 

Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation said, “The Wei Wai Kum First Nation is engaged in a variety of successful economic development projects as a means of creating employment opportunities for our members, generating revenues to support Band programs, and contributing to the economy of the Campbell River region. 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.”

A decommissioned fish farm in the traditional territory of the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai First nations – Photo by Roy L Hales

To which Deputy Chief Councillor Chris McKnight of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation added, “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. Kitasoo owns all of 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. Self determination will only be meaningful with an adequate economic base, and with recognition of our governance jurisdiction.”

(Two days after the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship published their press release, the BC Chamber of Commerce wrote a public letter to Joyce Murray, the Minister of Fisheries, in support of the industry. They cite an allegedly ‘independent’ economic analysis released by the BC Salmon Farmers Association indicates that  4,700 jobs and $1.2 billion in annual economic activity will be lost if the 79 licenses coming up this June are not renewed.)

“It’s obviously important that a First Nation is able to decide what goes on in their territory, but all of the fish from the Fraser River, the Broughton Archipelago, the east Vancouver island rivers, the Mainland go by Smith inlet on their way north,” said Morton.

“So nations who have benefited from the movement of salmon through their territory have, you would think, some kind of responsibility to their neighbors to protect those fish. For example, I’ve travelled the Fraser River and nations there are doing everything they can, they are sacrificing their own take of these fish. They are working on the spawning grounds protecting them they’re doing enormous work to, to make sure the fish can pass through the Fraser River as things collapse and their work has been entirely disrespected by First Nations who want MOWI, Cermaq, and Greig to use their territories, to raise farm fish, to raise Atlantic salmon.”

This post was originally released on March 25 and has gone through three revisions. The most recent is Sunday April 3, 2020.

Top photo credit: Salmon farm in Clio Channel, Broughton Archipelago, that Grieg Seafood British operates in partnership with the Tlowitsis First Nation – Photo by David Stanley via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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