Diverse cast united to oppose open net fishing pens in British Columbia

Indigenous, Commercial and Sport Fishermen’s Alliance calls on Prime Minister to deliver on promise to abandon pens by 2025

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A diverse alliance whose members have often been at odds on Tuesday came together to demand that the Prime Minister maintain a promise made five years ago to end open-net fish farms in British Columbia by 2025

“It’s not unreasonable to think that the primary role of the Department of Fisheries is to care for the environment and wild salmon,” said Bob Chamberlin, president of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliancesaying.

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“We have an unprecedented presence of unity across British Columbia, including more than 100 First Nations, commercial and recreational fishermen, tourism operators, scientists and NGOs.

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Members of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, including Bob Chamberlain, President (at podium), hold a press conference to express concerns about the federal government’s commitment to transition from open-pen salmon farming by 2025, in North Vancouver, BC, on Tuesday. May 7, 2024. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau, we implore you to keep your promise to ensure that DFO addresses its primary responsibility, not the cabal of multinational corporations that are infesting our waters and destroying a First Nations way of life and British Columbians.”

Trudeau made his promise during the 2019 election campaign.

According to the Alliance, 120 First Nations and 75 per cent of British Columbians are against open-net salmon cages.

The Prime Minister ordered a “responsible plan” in 2019 for the Department of Fisheries to work with First Nations and the province to abandon open-net salmon pens by 2025, but Alliance members are concerned that as That date is approaching, nothing is being done. made.

“If we stop putting up barriers, the salmon will survive and come back,” said head Don Svanvik of Namgis First Nation said Tuesday. “This was the Prime Minister’s mandate and no work has been started.

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“It’s the 11th hour, almost midnight, all the science has been done.”

The Alliance’s concern is that pests such as sea lice and open-net pen diseases will infect wild salmon that reach the sea.

Chief Darren Blaney of Homalco The First Nation, the rapids people in and around the Discovery Islands, compared the loss of wild salmon to residential schools attempting to strip First Nations of their identity.

“When we lose our salmon, we lose our culture,” he said. “We lose our teachings.”

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Members of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, including Chief Darren Blaney (at podium), hold a press conference to express concerns about the federal government’s commitment to transitioning open-pen salmon farming by 2025, in North Vancouver, BC, on Tuesday, May 7. , 2024. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Seventeen First Nations have formal fish farming agreements, employ more than 500 Indigenous people and generate $50 million a year in direct economic benefits, according to the First Nations Fish Management Coalition.

“The coalition is forced to reiterate once again that the remaining salmon farms in British Columbia operate in our traditional territories and in partnership with our nations,” said spokesperson Isaiah Robinson, deputy chief of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation.

“Any decisions regarding the transition and future of salmon farming in our respective territories will be made by those rights-holding nations with claim strength,” which is a guideline from the provincial government to consult with First Nations.

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“One hundred percent of the salmon farmed in British Columbia is raised in partnership with coastal First Nations,” Robinson said. “The direct influence this has on the social health and economies of our communities cannot be emphasized enough.

“We know that a responsible transition can occur if our nations are at the table, providing our own oversight, traditional knowledge, Indigenous-led science, economic participation and leadership in salmon farming in our territories.”

Members of the opposition Alliance argue that the international companies that own the fish farms cannot be counted on to be responsible stewards, even with First Nations oversight, and that if the pens are removed, the salmon would recover under the hurdles. in the path.

Sean Jones, an attorney with MacKenzie Fujisawa LLP, compared salmon pens to factory chicken and cattle farms.

“I have a question for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Will he keep his promise?” he said. “It was a promise based on common sense: industrial-scale agriculture spreads diseases like swine flu, bird flu and mad cow disease.

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“We don’t put livestock on caribou trails, we don’t put poultry farms near aviaries, we absolutely should not have millions of Atlantic salmon in the migratory routes of endangered Pacific salmon.”

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Members of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, including lawyer Sean Jones (at podium), hold a press conference to express their concerns about the federal government’s commitment to transition from open-pen salmon farming by 2025, in North Vancouver, BC, on Tuesday, May 7. , 2024. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Sonia Strobel, CEO and co-founder of Otton Patternan association of independent fishing families, said 8,000 people across Canada depend on wild salmon for their way of life.

“Since salmon farms were introduced into our waters, we have seen a steady decline in wild salmon numbers, as we have been talking about here,” he said. “And this has happened everywhere in the world.

“Yes, salmon farms create jobs, but not as many as thriving wild salmon populations.”

As noted in the press conference, adversity can make for strange bedfellows.

“I would love to be in a position where we are fighting over (access to) salmon again,” said Tyrone McNeil of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, referring to past clashes with commercial and recreational fishermen. “Foreign corporations have foreign interests.

“They have nothing to lose and everything to gain; “We have nothing to gain and everything to lose.”

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