British Columbia First Nations condemn Canadian government for “disregarding science” on salmon farming

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A coalition of British Columbia First Nations have demanded that the Canadian Federal Government respect their Indigenous rights by re-issuing salmon farming licences which are set to expire in June.

“Our coalition is opposed to the federal government disregarding science and bowing to unfounded activist claims on salmon farming that, if heeded, will severely damage our communities, and deny our rights and title,” the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) said in a statement.

“Salmon farming has lifted entire coastal Indigenous communities out of poverty. It injects money into our communities, creates meaningful employment for our members, provides opportunities for First Nations-owned business to supply the sector, and funds projects that contribute to the wellness of our people and wild salmon”, FNFFS added.

“As coastal Nations, wild salmon are our priority, and we would not put centuries of stewardship at risk for short-term gains. Participating Nations of this coalition recognize science shows that responsible salmon farming does not adversely impact wild salmon”, the press release stated.

FNFFS released an economic impact survey alongside the press release at a press conference held on Monday at Campbell River, attended by politicians and members of the salmon farming industry.

17 First Nations have existing deals with aquaculture companies in British Colombia, with the longest in place going back over two decades, with these territories making up the majority of the south cost of the region, covering supply lines, processing plants and transport contracts.

The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million. These include 276 full-time jobs, benefit payments, and contracts with Indigenous-owned companies that provide further employment to First Nations communities, the survey found.

When indirect and induced economic activity is factored in First Nation interests in BC’s farmed salmon sector on and off reserves are estimated to generate $83.3 million in economic activity, $47.8 million in GDP, and 707 jobs earning $36.6 million in wages per year, FNFFS claimed.

79 salmon farming licences are set to expire on June 30, with the federal government having not yet made a formal decision on their future, as the country moves to phase out British Columbia salmon farms as part of a transition to open net salmon farms on the west coast.

“DFO Minister Joyce Murray is listening to everyone but the Nations that will suffer the most if licences aren’t renewed. To date, many of the chiefs and leaders in our coalition have reached out to the Minister and they have either been ignored or told that the Minister will go ahead with her agenda to transition farms out of the water in their territories, despite their concerns, and without their input or consent. This is not reconciliation,” the coalition said.

“Reissuing these licences with a minimum six-year term gives First Nations working with salmon farming the time to properly engage with their communities, government-to-government, and with the sector on the 2025 aquaculture transition plans,” FNFFS suggested, proposing a solution to the situation.