First Nations call for creation of Aquaculture Zone

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Two First Nations in British Columbia have called for an Aquaculture Zone to be established in their traditional territory, allowing them to administer licensing salmon and shellfish farms, as well as ensuring that wild stocks are not overfished.

The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations (GNN) cover territory from the northern point of Vancouver Island to the area around the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia’s central coast. The proposed zone is seen as a milestone for the First Nations, as they seek to move towards greater self-governance.

“We are working towards sustainability of both fisheries and aquaculture…they can both exist in our waters, but it should be our community that decides what that looks like for our Traditional Territory,” GNN’s Salmon Farm Monitor Ethan Shaw told an event on Friday.

In an event streamed live on GNN’s Facebook page, the First Nations announced that they are working towards establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to allow the communities to move towards co-governance, as part of a North Island Aquaculture Zone.

“This is an opportunity for us to study the impacts of the farms and ensure that our fish, shellfish, seaweed and all other life remain healthy so that we have food for our community on a regular basis,” Shaw said.

The GNN are two First Nations which were forced to move from their traditional territories to Port Hardy in 1964, where they were combined under the Indian Act. The GNN shares territory with several First Nation neighbours, including the Kwicksutaineuk, Kwa-wa-aineuk, Kwakiutl, ’Namgis, Tlatlasikwala, Tsawataineuk, and Wuikinuxv.

The economic impact
Mowi Canada West currently operates five salmon farms in the area in partnership with GNN. The salmon farm licences, as well as 74 others in British Columbia, are currently set to expire on June 30, having been placed into limbo amid efforts by the federal government to phase out salmon farms in Discovery Islands.

A recently released report 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. 

“Rural communities and their people need stable, family-supporting jobs to stay and support British Columbia and Canada in supplying healthy seafood to a growing world population,” GNN’s Hereditary Chief Paddy Walkus told the event.

The Canadian government’s plan
The federal government in Canada is responsible for issuing the fishing licences, while the provincial government is charged with issuing the tenure. 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.