A MOWI Canada West broodstock fish farm is located at Shaw Point on Johnstone Strait, northwest of Campbell River, B.C. Google Maps

Two Island First Nations call for fish farm removal from their territory

Two Campbell River-area First Nations are calling for the removal of a fish farm from their territory after more than 1,000 juvenile Atlantic salmon escaped from it in May.

The May 24 escape of Atlantic salmon from a finfish aquaculture site in Johnstone Strait prompted a call to cancel the provincial tenure for the farm.

In a letter dated June 9, Chief Brian Assu of We Wai Kai and Chief Chris Roberts of We Wai Kum advised the provincial government of the need to close the Shaw Point site, northwest of Campbell River, which has been operating by MOWI Inc. on a month-to-month basis since the expiry of the tenure.

“That site no longer has our consent to operate within our core territory,” Chief Assu said in a joint We Wai Kai-We Wai Kum press release, “we have advised the government that we expect the cancellation of the tenure and the remediation of the site to commence.”

The statements came as a surprise to MOWI Canada West, the company’s Director of Human Resources, Safety and Communications, Dean Dobrinsky, said.

“The release was a surprise. We’ve reached out to them to have further discussions,” Dobrinsky said.

He said that on May 24, there was a breach of their Shaw Point broodstock farm. Staff discovered a small, approximately 30 cm., hole in the net through which juvenile salmon escaped. The hole was discovered and MOWI conducted an investigation and completed its required reporting processes.

“We’ve done all the necessary repairs and things are back to normal,” Dobrinsky said.

The We Wai Kai/We Wai Kum press release says the escape at Shaw Point comes on the heels of efforts by We Wai Kai and We Wai Kum to develop a structure for collaborative governance of the finfish aquaculture industry in their territories. The province has failed to engage substantively to date, the First Nations said.

“We have tried to build on the work done by Nations in the Broughton Archipelago and negotiate a decision-making agreement that is based on the best science, the best data and the knowledge that our communities have,” said Chief Roberts, “but we need B.C. to be a partner in this.”

The escape of Atlantic salmon, the delay in notifying the First Nations about the escape, and the ongoing concerns about the impacts of sea lice on juvenile migrating salmon has brought this issue to a head.

“The system is broken,” said Chief Assu. “We cannot stand by and wait for B.C. to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, or for DFO to protect our vital resource. Our Nations have a right to wild salmon and the right to make decisions about how our territory is used. We will exercise that right, starting with the site at Shaw Point.”

“For countless generations, our people have cared for, harvested and relied on salmon as they return to our local spawning grounds and as they migrate through Laichkwiltach waters to many rivers, including the Fraser,” said Chief Roberts. “We are ready to exercise our right as decision-makers and stewards over our lands and waters. We hope that government will partner with us in a meaningful way to achieve real progress.”

Dobrinsky said the company has a tenure agreement for that site with the federal government.

“Obviously, we value our relationships with the First Nations and I can’t comment on their intent here. Our goal is to move forward with them as it always has been to work in a collaborative manner and explore whatever options we have for the site,” he said. “We reached out to the Nations at the onset and tried to engage in some dialogue with them. We really value our relationship.

“Our intent is to continue to build on this relationship with them and find some good solutions.”

RELATED: VIDEO: Salmon babies in safe haven on Vancouver Island before hitting open ocean

RELATED: B.C. salmon farm inspection deal reached with Indigenous people


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