DFO responds to intention of First Nations to take control over traditional waters in salmon fishing row

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The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has responded to an announcement from British Columbia First Nations who have declared they will take control over their traditional waters.

The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations stated on March 25 that they intend to take charge of waters within their traditional territories, specifically managing aquaculture and fisheries.

Claire Teichman, the press secretary for Canadian Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, rejected this declaration, reaffirming the government’s commitment to “transitioning away from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters,” adding that “work to do so is already underway.”

The previous DFO minister, Bernadette Jordan, announced in December 2020 that 79 salmon farming licences in the Discovery Islands would not be renewed, although the government has not yet made a formal decision amid controversy over the transition plan.

Teichman refuted the suggestion that the government has not engaged with indigenous communities over the situation in their territories. According to the press secretary, indigenous communities, the Province of British Columbia, industry, scientists and other stakeholders “will be key to developing a responsible plan and successful transition process.”

The Canadian official argued that the “DFO is in consultation with the licence holders and a decision will be made in the coming months. The transition will provide a vision to create economic opportunities for communities that rely on fish farming.”

A recently released report by First Nations found outlined how British Columbia communities would lose 4,700 jobs and, as much as, $1.2 billion in economic activity per year if all 79 farming licences are not renewed. The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million.

The Canadian government has, so far, closed around a quarter of the salmon farms in British Columbia, refusing to renew licences for 19 sites in the Discovery Islands.

The Discovery Islands was previously identified by the Cohen Commission of causing a bottleneck for wild salmon migration routes, resulting in a recommendation that the fish farms in the area should be removed unless the fisheries minister could be satisfied that they posed no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.

The ministry’s own scientists did find that the farms posed no more than a minimal risk but, despite that advice, the Trudeau government ordered the closure of the farms anyway.