First Na­tions, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists oc­cupy salmon farm in B.C.

Truro Daily News - - CANADA -

A group of First Na­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are oc­cu­py­ing a salmon farm near Alert Bay, B.C., and say they won’t leave un­til the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments re­voke per­mits for the fa­cil­ity.

Ernest Al­fred, a tra­di­tional leader from the ‘Namgis, Tlow­it­sis and Ma­malilikulla First Na­tions, said he and other protesters ar­rived six days ago at the farm owned by Marine Har­vest Canada on Swan­son Is­land and are now build­ing a shel­ter.

He said the farm is threat­en­ing their tra­di­tional way of life by im­pact­ing wild salmon and her­ring stocks, and he’s also de­mand­ing an over­all end to open-net fish farm­ing in the sen­si­tive Broughton Ar­chi­pel­ago area.

“We can’t sit by. I can­not sit by any longer while these farms con­tinue to in­fest our wa­ters, putting all of our marine ecosys­tem at risk,” he said.

“The time for the very long de­bate about fish farms has passed. ... These li­cences of oc­cu­pa­tion need to be re­moved im­me­di­ately.”

Al­fred added that the com­pany does not have a for­mal agree­ment with the ‘Namgis to op­er­ate in their tra­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries.

Alexan­dra Mor­ton, a bi­ol­o­gist and long-time fish farm critic, is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the oc­cu­pa­tion with five oth­ers aboard a Sea Shep­herd Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety ves­sel. She said four Indige­nous protesters have set up on the farm it­self.

The protest was prompted in part by video filmed by Al­fred and another First Na­tions leader, which was then re­leased by Sea Shep­herd last week that pur­ported to show At­lantic salmon in­side fish farms in the area be­tween Alert Bay and Camp­bell River.

Many of the fish ap­peared blind, de­formed or dis­eased, Mor­ton said.

“I was stunned. There were so many fish that were clearly in poor health,” she said.

Ian Roberts, a spokesman for Marine Har­vest Canada, said no im­ages in­di­cate or prove dis­ease. He said de­for­mi­ties are very rare in salmon, but like other an­i­mals and hu­mans, they can oc­cur.

“We are able to re­move any poor per­form­ing or de­formed fish from our farms be­fore they are sent to mar­ket,” he said. “Our salmon are very healthy, are reg­u­larly checked for health by li­censed vet­eri­nar­i­ans and au­dited by Fish­eries and Oceans Canada.”

He said the com­pany has reg­u­larly in­vited the ‘Namgis First Na­tion and its mem­bers to visit and ob­serve its op­er­a­tions, but to date they had de­clined to visit or meet.

“While this un­sched­uled visit was a sur­prise to us, we have al­lowed them to re­main on site to ob­serve our op­er­a­tions as long as they re­main re­spect­ful and peace­ful, and not ha­rass our staff or harm our fish,” he said.

“To date, they have re­mained rel­a­tively peace­ful, but we are grow­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned about the health and wel­fare of the in­di­vid­u­als . ... We have again con­tacted the na­tion’s elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive to meet and dis­cuss their con­cerns.”

Roberts con­firmed the com­pany does not have a for­mal agree­ment with the ‘Namgis, but he said the com­pany has pro­vided ju­ve­nile fish to the First Na­tion in the past for its land-based salmon farm, Kuterra.

Bri­tish Columbia’s Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Lana Popham said she has not reached out to the protesters, but she plans to raise the is­sue with First Na­tions lead­ers at a gath­er­ing in Van­cou­ver next week.

“Our re­la­tion­ship and part­ner­ship with the First Na­tions around issues like this are crit­i­cally im­por­tant,” she said.

No new ten­ure per­mits for fish farms have been ap­proved in B.C. since 2015. A com­mit­tee is cur­rently ex­am­in­ing wild salmon and the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, and is ex­pected to sub­mit a re­port at the end of Novem­ber, said Popham.

Fish­eries and Oceans Canada is also re­spon­si­ble for grant­ing op­er­at­ing li­cences to fish farms. The depart­ment did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on Tues­day.

The re­cent es­cape of At­lantic salmon from a Wash­ing­ton state pen that held 305,000 fish has spurred de­bate in Canada about open-net fish farm­ing and has led to calls for the coun­try to fo­cus on land-based aqua­cul­ture.


Protesters gather at the Marine Har­vest fish farm on Swan­son Is­land, near Alert Bay, B.C. in a hand­out photo from the Face­book page Swan­son Oc­cu­pa­tion.

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