According to the Surrey Now-Leader, MH Canada went ahead with restocking its Port Elizabeth farm near Alert Bay, north of Vancouver Island, at the weekend despite a government request to stop, and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) boat attended the area to maintain order with First Nations protesters who have occupied area salmon farms since late August.
In a letter to MH Canada managing director Vincent Erenst written on October 13, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the restocking “comes at a very sensitive time in government-to-government discussions” with aboriginal people who assert territory in the Broughton Archipelago and oppose ocean-based salmon farms. The province has 18 salmon farm tenures that are coming up for renewal next year.
“As you are aware, government will be reviewing tenures and will make a decision on renewals before the current leases expire in June 2018,” Popham wrote. “While the issuance of any replacement tenure or any permission to allow you continued occupation of existing sites on a month-to-month [basis] remains subject to future decision-making processes and cannot be guaranteed, we look forward to your input on the lease renewal decisions.”
Popham has since said the letter was not meant as a threat, and she understands the company’s decision to go ahead with restocking its salmon.
“I think one thing we can all agree on is that the status quo is not going to happen any more,” Popham said. “The salmon farmers also agree with that.”
Protesters refused meeting
Marine Harvest communications director Ian Roberts said the restocking was put off as long as possible, and the need to proceed and maintain the health of live salmon was communicated to the government. He added that the protesters have refused to meet with company officials, and Marine Harvest is willing to talk about solutions, including relocating salmon farms.
“However, that solution must include maintaining the business we have built over 30 years in B.C. (British Columbia) with the support of the provincial and federal governments,” Roberts said in a statement. “We have a very good track record of working with First Nation governments who are willing to meet with us – currently having protocol agreements with 15 First Nations out of the 24 First Nations in whose traditional territories we operate.”
Respect the right to demonstrate
For its part, the RCMP made it clear it was not taking sides, and contrary to some social media reports, it did not 'escort' the wellboat Viktoria Viking to the site to deliver smolts.
“There appears to be erroneous information circulating over the internet through either news articles or social media that we wish to correct,” wrote Corporal Janelle Shoihet in a press release.
Shoihet clarified the RCMP is not taking part in the ongoing work being done by MH Canada. “At no time did the RCMP escort the vessel into the area. We were made aware that the restocking of fish was to be occurring October 13, and we are also aware there are people who oppose the restocking.”
She added the RCMP are impartial, and they “understand and respect the rights of individuals to peacefully demonstrate and we are committed to protecting those rights. At the same time, companies also have a lawful right to complete their mandated work. Our role is to maintain peace and ensure the safety of all those involved, and in order to do so we need to physically be in a position to respond should there be a need for our services – from demonstrators, spectators, fish farm workers and general public.”
Shoihet confirmed the BC RCMP’s Division Liaison Team (DLT) is currently in Alert Bay, and are “ready and available to assist in facilitating safe demonstration, whether on land or water.”