Hereditary chiefs on Vancouver Island took to the waters to protest any renewal of fish farms along the coast.
Hereditary Chief Tsahaukuse Gigame (George Quocksister Jr). of the Laich-Kwil-Tach Nation has been raising concerns for fish farms on Vancouver Island’s coast for two decades.
He said they took to the waters to let the fish farms know they don’t want them to re-stock their pens.
“We went out there, made a noise, told them we don’t want any farms re-stocked, period. We were very fortunate Bernadette Jordan, the fisheries lady last year, she took these 19 out of my territory and now these fellas were threatening to re-stock them.”
Last month, Chief Tsahaukuse Gigame held another Vancouver Island rally where he said 97 nations showed their support against fish farms.
That Campbell River rally was to let Joyce Murray, the minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) know they have support.
“We were trying to let Joyce Murray, the fisheries minister, know we have her back. We don’t want these farms renewed,” he said.
Late in 2020, DFO issued an order to phase out fish farming. Nearly 20 were to be shuttered in June 2022
Fish farm operators Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood applied for judicial review.
On April 22, Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan ruled in favour of the fish farmers, saying DFO’s order lacked fairness. She set aside the phase-out.
The fish farm licences in B.C. are set to expire next month and now Murry will need to decide whether to renew or not.
Salmon farms in B.C. are a controversial issue because some biologists see them as contaminating the waters as other salmon migrate to and from their spawning grounds. The companies have signed agreements with a few elected band councils.
Marine biologist Alexandra Morton has spent 30 years trying to save wild salmon in B.C.
In an interview with APTN News, she talked about another devastating impact on wild salmon, Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV).
“It infects their heart and their red blood cells, so they just don’t have the energy; they don’t have the energy to get to their muscles, “ she said.
PRV is a virus that is now found in B.C. waters that are traced back to Atlantic salmon farms in Norway according to a study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative.
Morton said she has been up the Fraser River and tested salmon which had PRV.
The Fraser River is the province’s largest river system and a major salmon migration route.
Chief Tsahaukuse Gigame and Alexandra Morton both believe the pending renewals of fish farm licences is an important decision for the future of wild salmon in British Columbia.
Morton said if the fish farms remain, it will lead to exciton of BC salmon.
“Extinction, because the problem is they are not making it to sea,” Morton stated.
She said a recent study by Pacific Salmon Foundation detailed the risk of disease Fraser River salmon linked to open-pen fish farms.
In an emailed statement to APTN News, the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Steward said it understands the federal government is working to address open pen salmon farming, and they are calling for collaboration with stakeholders.
“We have brought together ministers from key portfolios to call upon the federal government to work collaboratively with First Nations and local governments and to commit to a transition plan that supports families, coastal communities, and companies, “the statement read.
They added they are working with Indigenous people and the federal government to sustain and revitalize wild salmon.
According to DFO, the minister is committed to transitioning away from open-net fish farms.
“Minister Murray is committed to transitioning away from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters,” said Claire Teichman, press secretary for DFO.
“Work to do so is already underway; last spring, former Parliamentary Secretary Terry Beech concluded engagements on a plan to phase out open-net pen fish farms, which was published in July 2021, and DFO officials are in the process of building on this work.”
DFO said they are working with industry, scientists and stakeholders to have a successful transition plan and added that wild pacific salmon is a priority.
“The protection of wild Pacific salmon is a priority for British Columbians. In recent years, climate change, including BC’s recent landslides and flooding, habitat loss and fishing pressures have negatively affected Pacific salmon at every stage of the life cycle.
Chief Tsahaukuse Gigame said that wild salmon are essential to First Nations in B.C. and the ecosystem.
“We are going to end off with no salmon; we are going to end off with no herring, we are going to end off with no fish in the waters, it’s going to become a really big ghost town in the waters, “ he said.