More than 50 people showed up at the Chilliwack Walmart at Eagle Landing on Friday to ask that farmed Atlantic salmon be removed from store shelves.
The sound of traditional First Nations drumming and singing filled the parking lot, while some carried placards supporting the National Open-Net Salmon Feedlot Boycott.
“The most ominous threat open-net feedlots pose is the spread of deadly diseases,” said local boycott organizer Eddie Gardner, a Skwah First Nation elder.
He thanked those who in attendance at the rally, for “standing up for wild salmon,” saying that the risks are “too high” to stop putting pressure on government to remove open-lot fish farms from the B.C. coast.
“We can’t stand for this,” he told the crowd at the Walmart. “It is time for the federal government and the industry to kick in the precautionary principle.
“The precautionary principle means removing those open-net feedlots from the B.C. coast. This is our message.”
Boycott organizers are asking retailers like Walmart, Superstore, Safeway and Costco to remove farmed salmon from their shelves.
The goal is to “empower consumers to make ethical choices” for their own well being, for the marine environment and for preservation of wild salmon, Gardner said.
Since Fraser salmon head to the sea as smolts, and often swim past fish farms, they risk suffering “a blizzard of pathogens and feces” released into the water by feedlots, he said.
“This empowers consumers to make the ethical choices for their own well being, for the marine environment and for preservation of wild salmon,” said Gardner.
An aquaculture rep contacted by The Progress said that fish farms are strictly managed in B.C.
“Our fish are very healthy and our farmers follow strict fish health management plans developed with not only the well being of our fish in mind, but also the well being of the natural environment where we operate,” said Colleen Dane with the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association.
“Everything from feeding practices to farm siting is done with an eye to reducing any impact on our coast – and we believe the research to date is showing how effective we are at addressing concerns that have been raised.”
ISA has “never” been found in B.C., she underlined in an emailed response.
“Government regulators, independent laboratories and our farmers test for it regularly on our farms, have for over 10 years, and the virus has never been found,” wrote Dane. “This is important to us as British Columbians and as farmers since it would be harmful to our operations.”
But Gardner argued that several labs on the West Coast have in fact detected the presence of the virus, despite the denial. CFIA officials have been dealing with those same fish virus issues in the Maritimes.
“The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) as much as acknowledged that ISA (Infectious Salmon Anemia) is here to stay, as it couldn’t get rid of ISA in Atlantic waters,” said Gardner.
Fish farmers have not felt any effects from the national boycott, said the industry rep.
“No, we haven’t seen any impact from this boycott effort, but we are concerned about any situation where people are being given wrong or misrepresented information about our farms or our product.
“The market for B.C.’s farm-raised salmon is very strong, and this remains the case despite these boycott efforts. B.C. seafood has a very good reputation, and our members haven’t been able to keep up with the demand for our product in years.”
The issue of consultation with stakeholders is crucial when it comes to impacts on wild salmon, according to local Sto:lo.
“We have fish farms using open-net feedlots on the Pacific coast, and there is increasing alarm it could spell the total collapse of wild salmon,” said Ernie Victor of the Cheam First Nation. “It’s imperative we be consulted.”
Dane said they’re always willing to have constructive discussions.
“Our farm companies have many positive partnership agreements with First Nations on Vancouver Island, and continue to be available for others interested in constructive conversations about aquaculture, how it can be managed and the opportunities it provides for local communities.”
There are links between the boycott and the Idle No More movement, said some of the protesters.
“This is what Idle No More is about,” said Chief Robert Jimmie of Squiala First Nation. “Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 gutted the Fisheries Act and eliminated environment protection measures that make it easier for big foreign-owned companies like fish farms to have their way.”
Gardner raised the specter of the eventual extinction of the sockeye.
“Imagine what that would be like. We’ll keep coming together until the job gets done,” he said. “Make Chilliwack an open-net feedlot free-zone.”
The lunch hour protest at Walmart was the second one in Chilliwack held in recent months, and the next boycott location being eyed is Safeway.