Seeking Judicial review for aquaculture on unceded territory

Seeking Judicial review for aquaculture on unceded territory

In what at least one First Nation leader describes as a challenge to Aboriginal rights, Mowi Canada West and Cermaq Canada are seeking a judicial review to overturn the DFO’s decision to phase out fish farms in the Discovery Islands.

Fish swimming inside cage $5 at Phillips Arm (2016) – courtesy MOWI Canada West

Unceded Territory

This is unceded territory, which has belonged to First Nations for countless generations.

When she announced the decision to phase out the fish farms by June 30th, 2022, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan explained, “These facilities are some of the oldest sites on the West Coast and are located on the traditional territory of the Holmalco, Klahoose, K’omoks,  Kwiakah,  Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations. Consultations with the seven First Nations in the Discovery Islands area provided important guidance to the Minister and heavily informed the decision. This approach also aligns with the Province of British Columbia’s land tenure commitment that all aquaculture licenses as of June 2022 require consent from local First Nations.” 

‘Just words, no action’

David Kiemele, Managing Director for Cermaq Canada, issued a press release stating the judicial review focuses “on the conduct of DFO and the Minister of Fisheries …”

“We respect the opinions and the rights of the First Nations in the Discovery Islands region. As a supporter of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the reconciliation process, Cermaq recognizes the inherent Indigenous rights and title of the local First Nations in whose territories we operate. The judicial review brought by Cermaq is meant to allow time for Cermaq to engage with these local First Nations regarding our operations in their territories,” he wrote.

Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco First Nation told the Campbell River Mirror that Cermaq’s statement is “hollow… just words, no action.”

“If they (aquaculture industry) want to reinstate the farms they will have to consult with First Nations going all the way up to the end of the Fraser and every other person who gets impacted on the B.C. coast,” he said.

Fish farms in the Discovery Islands – courtesy BC Salmon Farmers Association

Local Government reaction ‘racist’

The Mayors of Campbell River, Gold River, Sayward, Port Hardy and Port McNeill have all come out in support of the fish farms, protesting the fact they were not consulted.

At their last board meeting, the Strathcona Regional District Board decided to write the Prime Minister of Canada and Federal Fisheries Minister “to enquire why there has been no consultation with our Strathcona Regional District, which is responsible for zoning in our local communities and which decides location, zoning and conditions of use of fin fish aquaculture in our region and why our expertise has been ignored.”

Blaney described the local government attempt to overturn the results of DFO’s consultation with First Nations as racist. 

“They voted unanimously to overturn this decision saying that it was a ‘mistake’ and so does that mean my culture is a mistake? We are passing on our culture to future generations, is that a mistake? That’s what this challenge is. It goes right back to the kind of racism that our people have been subjected to throughout Canada,” he said. 

No advance warning

MOWI and Cermaq claim the DFO did not consult with them and they were given no advance warning of the decision. 

David Kiemele said, “Salmon farming, like all farming, requires a planning cycle, in our case this is 60 months (five years), to ensure the proper fallowing and rotation of farm sites, coordinated area-based management, and the breeding and rearing of the next generation of fish. It is important to note that this decision will have far reaching impacts on our overall operations.” 

“Although it may only seem to be a closure of three farms, this represents about 20 per cent (20%) of Cermaq Canada’s overall production. This will have immediate implications for our hatcheries, our other farms, processing facilities, our customers, and – most importantly – for our employees and the communities in which we operate. At the time of DFO’s announcement, plans were well underway for the stocking of two of Cermaq’s three farm sites in the Discovery Islands region later this spring, representing a measurable investment by Cermaq. This means that the significant number of fish that were destined for these two sites are in limbo as these fish no longer have a farm location in which to complete their grow out.” 

MOWI has a larger stake in the Discovery Islands: 13 farms, 9 of which were empty when the announcement was made. It had been planning to stock several farms in the Spring of 2021.

Aquaculture sector was pre-warned

The Aquaculture Industry was warned that fish farming could be phased out almost a decade ago. 

Recommendation 19 of the Cohen Commission states “On September 30, 2020, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should prohibit net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands (fish health sub-zone 3-2) unless he or she is satisfied that such farms pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon.”

When Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan announced the risks were minimal, last fall, she said the next step was consulting with “First Nations on the options around aquaculture licence renewals in the Discovery Islands.”

This led to the decision to phase out fish farms on December 17th, 2020.

Links of Interest

Top photos credit: Phillips Arm was a ten cage fish Farm, holding 546,000 salmon in 2016 – Publicity photo from MOWI Canada West


This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

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