Skwah First Nation elder Eddie Gardner of Chilliwack has fought hard over the years to see open-net fish farms removed from the migration routes of wild salmon.
As president of the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance, Gardner said he gained “some hope and a sense of optimism” last week after “meaningful discussions” with First Nation leaders led to the idea of creating a “farm-free” migration corridor in the Broughton Archipelago.
Premier John Horgan made the announcement Friday alongside Indigenous and aquaculture reps explaining a transition plan to see 17 fish farms either decommissioned or moved over a five-year period.
“Our governments have come together to help revitalize and protect wild salmon, and provide greater economic certainty for communities and local workers. These are the kinds of gains true reconciliation can deliver,” said Horgan.
The changes constitute “a beginning,” but the job is not done yet, Gardner said.
“I think there is a real change happening,” he said. “There’s been a shift, and it’s the culmination of 30 years of advocacy for wild salmon, but I have to say the plan is not as solid as it could be.”
The fact that the planned closures were presented as “recommendations,” and not as a result of “a legislated change,” toward total removal, similar to that enacted by Washington State, is worth mentioning, Gardner said. And he’s worried it will lead to intensification in other areas.
“I realize the industry does have the support and partnership with some First Nations on the coast, yet they are also on the migration routes of some salmon stocks, so if some remain in operation, they could still pose a danger to salmon in the area.”
Over the years, Gardner organized rallies at Chilliwack supermarkets and retail outlets across B.C. to raise public awareness about the adverse impacts of farmed salmon on human health, the marine environment and wild salmon stocks. Most recently the Alliance raised $22,000 in the Last Stand Paddle for Wild Salmon to offset court costs of Indigenous leaders defending their territories.
The decommissioning of fish farms was set against a backdrop of the entire redesign of the tenure system on the West Coast.
What is notable is the shifting to a nation-to-nation approach with Indigenous leaders, which resulted in the plan for an “orderly transition” of 17 fish farm sites operated by Marine Harvest and Cermaq, between 2019 and 2023.
That five-year transition period is the “key piece,” of it all for industry, said Jeremy Dunn, public affairs director for Marine Harvest Canada.
“From a jobs perspective one of the discussion topics at the government-to-government level was that nobody on that table wanted to see people in the region lose their jobs,” Dunn said.
“The transition plan allows for adjustments to be made so that job loss doesn’t happen here.”
Workers and fish shifting to other locations will be part of the adjustment process.
Some farms will be immediately decommissioned; some will remain in operations for up to four years. By the end 2022, 10 farms will have ceased operations. The remaining seven farms will cease operations, unless First Nations-industry agreements and valid Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) licences are in place by 2023.
“We approached these discussions seeking solutions that would both address the concerns of the First Nations and maintain our commitment to the well-being of our employees, support businesses and stakeholders,” said Diane Morrison, managing director, Marine Harvest. “Going forward, we see the implementation of the recommendations as a positive step toward building mutual goodwill, trust, and respect as we work to earn First Nations consent of our operations in their Territories.”
The Friday announcement was delivered by the Broughton steering committee, comprising members from the ‘Namgis, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, and provincial government reps, who submitted recommendations at the end of November.
“What a holiday present for all people who value B.C.’s wild salmon,” said Dr. Craig Orr, conservation advisor for Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “This plan is a major step toward addressing the impacts of salmon farming on our coast.”
After 20 years of witnessing the impacts of salmon farms on B.C.’s coastal ecosystems, Watershed Watch reps said they were “delighted” to provide scientific and technical support to the Broughton-area First Nations, “who never consented to the operation of open net-pen salmon farms in their territories.”
Of note is the Indigenous Monitoring and Inspection Plan (IMIP) that will include virus, disease and parasite monitoring of salmon farms during the phase-out period. The IMIP increases the transparency of the industry’s operations during the removal process, and ensures the plan remains on schedule.
“I’m proud to stand with Broughton First Nations and provide technical support for their plan to remove harmful salmon farms from their traditional territories, once and for all,” says Stan Proboszcz, Watershed Watch Salmon Society’s science advisor.
Watershed Watch offered kudos to the provincial government for the transition plan and encouraging the federal government do its part.
“This is only the beginning,” Proboszcz added. “Salmon farms in other areas like the Discovery Islands and the West coast of Vancouver Island are still a threat to B.C.’s wild fish.”