About 50 people turned out in downtown Campbell River for a protest against fish farms, saying the practice is destroying wild salmon – and the Indigenous culture that’s bound up with the ancient fishery.
The demonstration initially took place outside the office of North Island MLA Claire Trevena before activists marched across the street to the Georgia Quay building, home to the salmon farming company Cermaq Canada.
The protesters entered the building and held a short rally in the second-floor hallway that opens onto the company’s offices, knocking on the windows and shouting anti-aquaculture chants before quietly dispersing.
Activists are hoping to pressure the provincial government into denying new permits for 20 fish farms when they expire on June 20. The protest in Campbell River was among five that were taking place at the offices of various MLAs, including the premier’s office, according to activists.
Ernest Alfred, a hereditary chief from Alert Bay, said he’d been leading an occupation of a site on Swanson Island adjacent to a Cermaq fish farm since August 24.
He had a message for the fish farm operators operating in the region.
“They’re not welcome,” he said.
Chief Darren Blaney of Homalco First Nation told the Mirror that wild salmon is inseparable from culture for Indigenous people in the region.
“It’s one of the foundations of our cultures on the coast,” he said.
He cited research indicating that farmed salmon is destroying the habitat of wild stocks, comparing it to residential schools in terms of cultural destruction.
Blaney said that scientific research has shown that farmed salmon spreads diseases to wild fish, and that farmed fish undermine the wild stocks by eating the smolt.
The B.C. government would be in violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People if it renewed the fish farm licenses, said Blaney.
“If they’re fearless and they’re honest, they can get them out of the waters,” he said, adding that Alaska has banned ocean fish farms, while Washington State has begun phasing out Atlantic salmon farms, leaving B.C. as the hold-out in the Pacific Northwest.
Asked about First Nations leaders who have supported fish farming in their territories – including Tlowitsis Chief John Smith – Blaney said they should consider what he described as the far-field impacts of the industry.
“Your sovereignty has to respect our sovereignty,” he said. “It’s not even a worthwhile economy if it’s destroying the culture.”
He also suggested that fish could be farmed in land-based facilities to stop the spread of what he described as deadly pathogens in the fish populations.