First Nations group says environmental impacts of B.C. salmon fish farm industry overstated

A councillor with the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation in British Columbia says uncertainty in the open-net salmon farm industry is negatively affecting First Nations that rely upon it.

“This overall industry supports a 99 per cent employment rate within my community and 51 per cent of its overall economy is represented in this sector,” Isaiah Robinson said at a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. “It makes no sense to shut this industry down.

“There is no industry that can fill this space for us in such a remote community in British Columbia.”

Opponents of the salmon farm industry say it is depleting salmon stocks by spreading parasites such as sea lice.

In the 2019 election campaign, the Liberals pledged to phase out open-net salmon fish farms and transition to a land-based industry by 2025.

In April 2022, a federal court judge set aside a Department of Fisheries and Oceans order that would have phased out fish farming in B.C.’s Discovery Islands.

At the time, Justice Elizabeth Heneghan said the order breached the right to procedural fairness.

Earlier this month, a group called the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance was also in Ottawa to lobby government officials to make good on this promise.

But organizations such as the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship say the environmental impacts of the industry have been highly overstated.

“We have seen a 40 per cent decline in salmon farming operations in our territories over the last four years,” organization spokesperson Dallas Smith said at Tuesday’s press conference. “The unemployment that is rising in our territories has led us out here today. For far too long activist voices have been the determining factor in how government has been making decisions on this necessary industry in our territories. But it’s simply not just about salmon and aquaculture alone. It’s about ocean planning, it’s about marine management.”

Finfish released its own report on Tuesday which says the industry is sustainable with the use of new technologies.

“We need to continue to look at transitions to limit the impacts on wild salmon,” Smith said. “The technology is changing on a regular basis and one of the things we are doing is we’re in discussions with British Columbia to talk about the infrastructure needs of bringing more technology forward. The lack of hydroelectricity in a lot of these remote communities is really a barrier to some of the new technologies being implemented.

Minister of Fisheries Diane Lebouthillier has yet to release a promised draft transition plan for the open-net salmon farm industry.

According to Finfish’s website, the industry accounts for about 247 jobs within First Nations communities and $42 million in economic benefits.

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