Laich-Kwil-Tach Hereditary Chief Tsahaukuse (George Quocksister Jr.) says fish farms operating outside of Discovery Islands will continue to have major impacts on wild salmon because of the federal government’s decision to renew their licences.
“All the way up to Port Hardy way, they take a huge toll on the baby fish. There are people up, and on those farms when baby sockeye come, there were tonnes of baby sockeye in the pens, you know what I mean, so basically it’s all salmon farms do the same harm as Discovery Islands.”
Last week Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced that fish farm facilities operating outside the Discovery Islands would receive two-year license renewals.
Seventy-nine fish farm licences were set to expire at the end of the month.
While renewing the licences, DFO reconfirmed its plans to transition away from open-net pen salmon farms in B.C.
But environmental groups also expressed concerns that renewals leave wild Pacific salmon at risk.
Lucero González Ruiz of the environmental organization Georgia Strait Alliance said they are concerned that time is also running out for salmon.
“Wild salmon are in a state of emergency and their health and wellbeing are running out of time,” said González. Minister Murray’s (Joyce Murray) decision means that wild salmon will continue to be exposed to harmful pathogens and disease produced by open-net pen fish farms for another two years.”
Ruiz added the length of time on the renewal indicates the government plans to stick to the transition plan by 2025.
“At the same time, the length of the licence renewals sends a clear message to the industry, their time is almost up; the time to transition is now.
The Discovery Islands are a group of islands between Vancouver Island and mainland BC.
The fish farms on the Discovery Islands are controversial because most Fraser River salmon must pass the farms on their migration route.
Scientists and First Nation leaders have raised concerns about open net-pen Atlantic salmon farms in B.C. waters due to the risk posed to wild salmon populations.
Tsahaukuse said the current salmon runs are critical for rebuilding salmon stocks and the renewals pose a risk.
In last week’s statement, Murry said that Canada wants to protect wild salmon and be an aquaculture leader.
“Wild Pacific salmon are an iconic keystone species in British Columbia that are facing historic threats. Our government is taking action to protect and return wild salmon to abundance and ensure Canada is a global leader in sustainable aquaculture, “ she said.
DFO added there will be stricter rules and requirements for fish farm licences and the Federal government will remain committed to a transition from fish farms on BC’s coast but will meet with other levels of government, First Nations, industry and stakeholders.
“Working together with First Nations, the Province, industry, and British Columbians, we will transition the aquaculture industry to one which leads with new technology while reducing or eliminating interactions with wild Pacific salmon.”
Fish farm operators and some First Nations have expressed concerns about the jobs if licences were not renewed.
In a joint statement last week, the Canadian Aquaculture Industry alliance and B.C. Salmon Farmers Association called the two-year renewals a positive step.
Ruth Salmon, Interim Executive Director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said their concerns had been heard.
“The renewal of licences in British Columbia is a positive first step and confirms the voices of Industry and First Nations, in whose territories we operate, have been heard,” the statement read.
“This announcement will give us the opportunity to work with all levels of government, including First Nations, to secure a future that will benefit Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities, meet the global demand for healthy, affordable seafood, and support the continuation in protection and restoration of wild Pacific salmon.”
DFO announced they would also share their transition plan from open-pen net fish farms in the coming weeks.
Tsahaukuse said the talks around salmon farms only create the potential for opening up salmon farming on the Discovery Islands.
He said the government’s delaying removing all fish farms will hurt First Nations’ way of life and all those who count on wild salmon.
“Like I say, I will never understand how the three governments want to wipe out all life on our B.C. coastal waters,” he said. “They are destroying everybody’s way of life and everything, not just First Nations.