The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) is denouncing attempts by the salmon farming industry to overturn a government decision to phase out operations in the Discovery Islands.
The FNLC cautions such a ruling by the Federal Court would run counter to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and create a situation where First Nations Title and Rights are at the mercy of the Crown.
“The FNLC refutes this, as Indigenous Peoples are the proper title holders and the original caretakers and stewards of our respective traditional territories. The FNLC urges Mowi Canada West Inc, Cermaq Canada Ltd and Grieg Seafood BC Ltd to exercise proactive conservation-based actions and work with First Nations in re-building Pacific salmon stocks,” a statement reads.
On Jan. 18 the three salmon producers filed for separate judicial reviews of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the waters off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island by June 30, 2022.
Cermaq Canada said its goal with the court filing is “to allow time for engagement with the local First Nations to examine opportunities to achieve mutually beneficial agreements.”
During the transition farms are prohibited from adding new fish to the pens, which the companies are also hoping to reverse in order to transfer a final generation of young salmon from land-based hatcheries to the ocean pens for rearing and harvest.
The Discovery Islands decision jeopardizes 25 per cent of farmed salmon production and 1,500 jobs, and could put the entire $772-million industry at risk, according to previous statements.
“The FNLC calls for the decision to be upheld,” the statement reads. “It is clear that the majority of First Nations in B.C. oppose open net pen fish farming due to the detrimental effects it has on wild salmon: the 102 First Nations that support the removal of fish farms from the ocean are supportive of Minister Jordan’s decision.”
The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of all salmon farms in the narrow waterways of the Discovery Islands by September 2020 if they exceeded minimal risk to wild stocks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) risk assessments last year found the impacts were below that critical threshold, but public pressure resulting from conflicting scientific surveys resulted in three months of consultation with area First Nations and Jordan’s subsequent decision.
The declines are blamed on numerous factors, including climate change, over fishing and predation. Along with conservation groups, the FNLC also points to salmon farms as reservoirs for naturally occurring pathogens and sea lice that could transfer to wild juveniles in lethal quantities. While the scientific findings are hotly disputed, the FNLC asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada to implement the precautionary principle by banning salmon farms in the juvenile salmons’ critical out-migration route through the Discovery Islands.