First Nations condemn lack of understanding over impact of transition to land-based salmon farming

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The Coalition of Fist Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) have condemned the lack of understanding over the potential impact of the government’s planned transition from open-net salmon farming to land-based farms. 

FNFFS, which supports the extension of salmon farming licences in British Columbia, argued that moving to land-based salmon farming is not a viable option for coastal indigenous communities that are dependent on the open-net farms.

The coalition of British Columbia First nations warned that the Canadian government “lacks understanding” of how being forced to change to growing salmon in land-based facilities would affect indigenous groups.

“This very lack of understanding would lead to the loss of farms in our territories and the benefits that come with them. Many of our people would return to poverty, and as leaders, we cannot let that happen,” FNFFS said in a statement.

While FNFFS has been critical of the Canadian government’s transition plans, the group claims it is not against the whole process, simply urging officials to consult indigenous groups before proceeding.

“There are many new technologies that are already being implemented to make salmon farming more environmentally friendly and we want to work on a BC-made solution that will result in a sustainable and secure future for all of us,” Dallas Smith, from the Tlowitsis First Nations, reportedly said.

Smith was involved in the group of First Nations who travelled to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, in March to lobby the government to renew 79 open-net salmon farming licences in British Columbia, which are at risk due to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to transition away from the existing farming process.

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. The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million.

The federal government having not yet made a formal decision on the future of the 79 salmon farming licences.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.