Juvenile salmon with sea lice. First Nations leaders, wilderness tourism operators, environmental NGOs and commercial and sport fishing organizations are calling on the federal government to implement a recommendation of the Cohen Commission report to remove open-pen salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30. (Tavish Campbell photo)

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

A broad coalition of First Nations leaders, wilderness tourism operators, environmental NGOs and commercial and sport fishing organizations gathered in North Vancouver Sept. 22 demanding the federal government fulfill recommendations of the Cohen Commission to immediately remove open-net salmon farms from the Discovery Islands, and abolish all others from BC waters by 2025.

A total of 101 B.C. First Nations have endorsed the conference’s demands, relating to the 2012 inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye. Justice Bruce Cohen issued 75 recommendations to government in his final report, including the removal of all 18 open net salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30 this year unless the spread of sea lice and viruses pose at most a minimal risk to wild fish.

But First Nations salmon advocate Robert Chamberlain accused Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) of minimizing the risks of salmon farms on wild stocks.

“I often tell people, ‘don’t mistake my passion for anger.’ Well I’m not saying that anymore. I’m angry. I don’t like what’s happened to the wild salmon of British Columbia. I don’t like that my great aunts and uncles are not able to eat foods that they have [eaten] their entire lives. That really pisses me off, and we have to stand up now or we’re not going to have this resource for our grandchildren.”

Roughly 270,000 sockeye are expected to return to the Fraser River this year, the lowest on record.

A number of factors are blamed for the crisis, including climate change and warming waters, over fishing and increased predation from protected marine mammals. However opponents of salmon farms point to independent studies that indicate lice loads in sea farms are causing devastating impacts on vulnerable out-migrating juvenile salmon. The industry and DFO disputes these claims.

Citing the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1990, known as the Sparrow Decision after the late Musqueam gill netter Ronald Sparrow that helped cement Aboriginal fishing rights across the country, Musqueam Indian Band Chief Wayne Sparrow said his nation is prepared to return to court to force the implementation of the Cohen recommendations.

“We were asleep at the wheel for a while, thinking that those recommendations were going to be adhered to by the federal government,” Sparrow said.

“We’ll fight back. We’ve tried sitting at the table to try to get the governments to listen to us, and it’s fallen on deaf ears. If they continue to not listen to us, Musqueam is in a position to take up Sparrow 2 and extend our rights that were proven in 1990.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to transition open-net pens from all B.C. waters by 2025. But Jordan has since clarified a workable plan will be in place by that date, with implementation possibly years later, worrying wild salmon advocates that change might come too late.

READ MORE: Conservation group challenges sustainable-certification claims of B.C. salmon farmer

Numerous First Nations leaders echoed Sparrow’s frustration with DFO over what many see as a conflict of interest in its role to both protect wild salmon and promote salmon farming. Justice Cohen also noted the potential for conflict of interest, and recommended oversight of salmon farms be transferred to another department.

Judy Wilson, a member of the Shuswap Nation and Secretary-Treasurer for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, compared the struggle to protect wild salmon to a state of war.

“But this war is different; it’s policy and legislation and unilateral decisions being made by DFO.

“What government, what department has the right to ignore the law of the lands, especially to ignore our Indigenous laws of our land. Our nations are outside the treaty process, so we’ve never relinquished or surrendered any of our land or waters to the government … we need DFO to vacate. We need DFO to totally reform.”

Representatives of the commercial fishing sector joined the press conference with similar demands.

Dane Chauvel with the Commercial Fisherman Troller Association said fishermen are reporting unprecedented lice loads on out-migrating salmon smolts. He acknowledged First Nations have more political clout than the commercial sector and hoped for further cooperation to reverse the environmental and socio-economic consequences of the salmon crisis.

“Coastal and Indigenous communities have been decimated over the past decades, and this decimation has coincided with the emergence of open-net pen salmon farming,” he said.

“It certainly was laid out in the Cohen inquiry as a smoking gun. When we look at neighbouring jurisdictions like Alaska, where they don’t have open pen salmon fisheries, they have vibrant coastal fishing communities and healthy ecosystems and healthy salmon returns. We don’t have that in British Columbia.”

Salmon farms are required to treat their salmon when lice loads exceed three per fish. The first fix is a chemical feed, but as lice immunity increasing salmon farms have invested heavily in mechanical treatments using fresh water baths and pressurized water.

Last June Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, released a report based on data supplied by salmon farm operators that argued these treatments were ineffective when lice levels exceed the DFO limits.

READ MORE: Sea lice counts under-reported on B.C. salmon farms: study

Speaking at Tuesday’s conference Wristen said at one point during the study up to 99 per cent of out migrating juvenile salmon were infested with sea lice at potentially lethal numbers.

The salmon farm industry has challenged that report over its methodology used the same data to show treatments were effective a vast majority of the time.

“There’s been extensive research done in the decade since the Cohen Commission that indicates salmon farms are not harming the health of wild salmon population,” Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association said. “We must of course farm responsibly and effectively manage issues such as sea lice, which we do.”

The sector is required by DFO to publicly report sea lice findings and other operational data on a regular basis.

Hall points to numerous studies supporting the efficacy of sea lice treatments.

In January last year DFO also released a study prompted by the Cohen recommendations that found the risk of the Piscine orthoreovirus pathogen spreading from farms to Fraser River sockeye is also minimal.

Correction: An earlier version of this stories referenced independent studies on sea lice and viruses related to salmon farms, when the studies pertain only to sea lice. The above story has been corrected.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Shoppers Drug Mart employee in Prince Rupert has tested positive for COVID-19 the company confirmed on Oct. 26. The last day the employee worked was Oct. 17. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Employee of Prince Rupert Shoppers Drug Mart tests positive for COVID-19

No COVID-19 public exposures alerts issued by Northern Health Authority for Prince Rupert

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

North Coast BC NDP MLA Incumbent is seen with her wife Andrea Wilmot and their son Lua, as well as their dog Duncan. Preliminary results on election night Oct. 24 show Rice is in for a third term. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Jennifer Rice is North Coast MLA for third term

Preliminary election results show NDP Majority government

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of B.C. girl, 7, by accused mother was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

Most Read