In a major agreement with First Nations on Vancouver Island, the B.C. government announced recommendations for protecting wild salmon stocks in the Broughton Archipelago area, including transitioning nearly a dozen fish farms out of the region over the next four years.
The recommendations came out of months of consultations between the province and the ‘Namgis, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, who have been protesting the presence of local fish farms in the traditional coastal migration route for years, including occupying farms on Midsummer Island and Swanson Island last year.
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The measures, including the closure of 10 farms by the end of 2022 and the conditional operation of the remaining seven the following year, were agreed to by the two fish farm operators in the area, Marine Harvest Canada and Cermaq Canada.
“We have opened up an opportunity for dialogue that did not exist before,” Premier John Horgan said. “It’s that nation-to-nation discussion that led to this opportunity…with a foundation of focusing on rehabilitation of streams and rivers in the area so that wild salmon can return to the abundance we knew in the past.”
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Horgan was joined by federal fisheries minister Johnathan Wilkinson and Indigenous leaders from the Broughton, including Chief Robert Chamberlin of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, who applauded the government for working towards a resolution.
“I’m really proud of the decision that were made,” Chief Chamberlin said. “There was some give, there was some take, and there was deeper understanding of virtually ever aspect of the industry’s operations.
“We’re going to have salmon enhancements in our territories, and we’re going to achieve a lot of the dreams that have been spoken of by leaders long before my time.”
Under the agreement, 10 farms operating in the area will cease operations by 2022, some of them immediately. The remaining seven will shut down the following year unless agreements between the industry and First Nations are put in place along with renewed federal fisheries licences.
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The transition will be overseen by a First Nations-led monitoring and inspection program, which will also ensure the restoration and rehabilitation of the local wild salmon habitat. That will include re-establishing a farm-free migration corridor in the Broughton.
Wilkinson said the steps taken in the province reflected his own concerns with protecting fish habitats across the country, including his recent announcement of a restructuring of Canada’s aquaculture industry that takes a more environmentally sustainable approach.
“We understand that we have a collective responsibility to ensure that fish and their habitat are protected for future generations, and we take this responsibility very seriously,” the minister said.
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The managing directors of both Marine Harvest and Cermaq Canada said they were reviewing what kind of impact the closures would have on jobs in the region, but said they don’t plan to make any changes to their staffing levels in the short term.
The agreement is the latest in not only the province’s ongoing reconciliation efforts with First Nations, but also its overhaul of the local fish farming industry.
In June, the NDP introduced new rules mandating fish farm operators get clearance from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans that they are not adversely affecting wild salmon populations, and that the province would only renew or issue permits to companies that have negotiated agreements with the First Nation in whose territory the company would operate.
Those measures will come into effect starting in June 2022.
—With files from Richard Zussman