Future of salmon farming in B.C. should be decided by First Nations Rightsholders, not Ottawa

  • National Newswatch

Far away from Ottawa on the coast of British Columbia, the future of B.C.'s salmon farming sector is at stake and, depending on whether the new Fisheries Minister re-issues the licences of 79 fish farms, so is the future of many coastal First Nations communities.The topic of salmon farms is a contentious one in B.C., and the battle for its future is being fought between the B.C. and federal governments, municipalities, the sector, activists, and a group of vocal First Nations against salmon farming that do not hold rights or title to the actual areas impacted by these decisions.A major group that will be heavily impacted by this decision has mainly kept out of the fray until now: First Nations who want to continue salmon farming in their territories, or who at least want the time to make the decision for themselves as Rightsholders.Seventeen First Nations have a variety of agreements with salmon farming companies, and those 17 Nations make up a significant amount of B.C.'s south coast. The majority of those Nations recently formed a coalition, united over a shared concern that our rights to make economic decisions in our territories are being ignored.Our coalition is called First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, and we are opposed to the Government of Canada disregarding science and bowing to unfounded activist claims about salmon farming. If those claims are heeded over our voices, the result will damage our communities, and deny us our rights to self determination. To protect these rights and the well-being of our communities, our Nations call on the federal government to re-issue the salmon farming licences in our territories in 2022.This is about more than just the future salmon farming within our territories; this is about acknowledging the sovereign rights we hold over our territories and our ability to govern our territories.As B.C.'s premier John Horgan recently wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, not re-issuing the licences “would fly in the face of our governments' commitment to UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) given the stated intention of a number of First Nations to pursue salmon farming.”DFO Minister Joyce Murray is listening to everyone but the Nations that will suffer the most if these licences are not re-issued. To date, many of the chiefs and leaders in our coalition have either been ignored or told that the Minister will go ahead with her agenda to transition farms out of their waters, without their input or consent. This is not reconciliation.True reconciliation would see individual Nations decide how the sector fits into their territories. Moving to land-based salmon farming is not an option for most of our Nations, and if this is forced by government, our communities will lose the sector and its benefits. Many will return to poverty and as the leaders and protectors of our Nations, we cannot allow that to happen.Leaders in this coalition have experienced what poverty can do to their communities, with high unemployment, addiction, and suicide. Having long-term economic opportunities (like with salmon farming) that are managed by the Nations is the foundation for the renewal of their communities.A recent survey of our producer partners and major suppliers to the industry indicates that the direct combined primary economic benefits to First Nations in BC are $50 million annually in the form of more than 276 full-time, meaningful jobs, benefit sharing, and contracts with Indigenous-owned companies that provide further employment.Salmon farming has lifted entire coastal Indigenous communities out of poverty, creating meaningful jobs for Indigenous peoples, providing opportunities for First Nations-owned businesses, and funding projects that help our communities, as well as wild salmon.As coastal First Nations, the protection of wild salmon is our priority, and we would not put centuries of stewardship at risk for short-term gains. Ongoing relationships with the sector have encouraged Nations to take on governance roles that has resulted in oversight of salmon farming within their territories, which is true reconciliation in action. In some cases, Nations are already conducting oversight with environmental monitoring and Guardian programs. Revenue from aquaculture also allows our Nations to work on restoring wild salmon in the face of numerous stressors.First Nations have long been denied meaningful participation in the modern economies of Canada and B.C. By managing the waters and its resources which we have overseen for millennia, coastal First Nations are positioned to lead Canada's Blue Economy, encourage new investment and innovation, create good jobs for our members, and work together to recover from the impacts of the pandemic – but we can only do that if the governments of Canada and B.C. practice true reconciliation and support our Nations on our individual paths towards self-determination.That support starts with Ottawa re-issuing licences in our territories in 2022. We need the Government of Canada to initiate a serious and focussed discussion on what the Blue Economy means to our Nations. They need to listen and learn about the very real opportunities that tie us to that Blue Economy that cannot and should not be taken away from us by federal policy decisions.Dallas Smith,Spokesperson for the coalition of First Nations for Finfish StewardshipTlowitsis Nation