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First Nations agreement plan is ‘unworkable’ warn Canadian salmon farmers

A Marine Harvest farm in British Columbia. Some BC farms are facing demands for closure by First Nations. Photo: Marine Harvest
A Marine Harvest farm in British Columbia. Some BC farms are facing demands for closure by First Nations. Photo: Marine Harvest

An advisory council in British Columbia has recommended that salmon farmers be required to have agreements in place with local First Nations before the Canadian province approves any new or replacement tenures – something that the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association (BCSFA) has said is currently “unworkable in practice”.

BC agriculture minister Lana Popham has said the MAACFA recommendations will be considered. Photo: Wikipedia
BC agriculture minister Lana Popham has said the MAACFA recommendations will be considered. Photo: Wikipedia

The proposal is one of several recommendations issued in a 230-page report issued by the Minister of Agriculture’s Advisory Council on Finfish Aquaculture (MAACFA), comprising representatives from the aquaculture industry – including BCSFA chief executive Jeremy Dunn - academia and First Nations.

BC agriculture minister Lana Popham pointed out the province will consider the recommendations as it reviews 20 fish-farm tenures that are up for renewal this June in the Broughton Archipelago off north-eastern Vancouver Island.

Protesters have occupied multiple fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago over the past year, claiming they are operating in First Nations' traditional territories without their consent.

They include Marine Harvest Canada’s Swanson Island site, one of the farms requiring tenure renewal in June. Members of the ‘Namgis First Nation occupied the site last year, and last month failed in a legal bid to stop the site being re-stocked.

Ernest Alfred:
Ernest Alfred: "No reconciliation".

The chances of MH Canada reaching agreement with the ‘Namgis would appear unlikely. The company has previously said it has “tried many times to engage ‘Namgis leadership in respectful discussions about our business generally and this year’s tenure renewal specifically, without success”.

Following the Federal Court decision not to grant the ‘Namgis an injunction to prevent the re-stocking of Swanson Island, MH Canada said it will continue to seek engagement with the First Nation. 

But a ‘Namgis hereditary leader, Ernest Alfred, who last year took part in an occupation of the Swanson Island farm, has said “there can be no reconciliation with First Nations as long as there are farm salmon in my territory”.

That impasse was reflected in a news release by the BCFSA, which stated that while it agreed collaborating with local First Nations when working on Crown land was crucial, “as currently drafted the recommendation that would require Crown tenure holders to acquire First Nation agreements as a condition of continuing operations at existing business sites is unclear and would be unworkable in practice”.

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Cannot support recommendation

The BCSFA continued: “The Association cannot support that recommendation as written, but would welcome the opportunity to work with other stakeholders and government to clarify it.

“For the last 10 years, all new site applications from BCSFA members to provincial or federal regulators have had prior support of the Indigenous government whose traditional territory the operation would be located in.

“Making a recommendation on consultation over existing sites sits outside the mandate of this Council, which was charged in 2016 with offering the government advice on issuing new tenures – not existing sites. Regardless, the recommendation was made and thus needs addressing.”

Agreements with 20 First Nations

It said BC salmon farmers have agreements with 20 First Nations, but added: “In a handful of cases a local community has refused to even speak with local farmers, so dialogue and reaching an agreement has not been possible. Clarity about the process for consultation on existing sites and the need for all parties to productively sit at the table together are necessary for this recommendation to be effective in practice.”

The MAACFA report also recommends that government considers putting a cap on how many farmed fish are allowed in a certain area and siting farms in areas where there is lower salinity to reduce sea lice infestations.

The council further recommends establishing an independent science council to review "conflicting science" and fill information gaps about the farms.

MAACFA spent 18 months coming up with immediate and long-term recommendations to protect BC's wild salmon stocks. 

The MAACFA report can be found here.