Juvenile salmon with sea lice. First Nations leaders, wilderness tourism operators, environmental NGOs and commercial and sport fishing organizations are calling on the federal government to implement a recommendation of the Cohen Commission report to remove open-pen salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30. (Tavish Campbell photo)

Juvenile salmon with sea lice. First Nations leaders, wilderness tourism operators, environmental NGOs and commercial and sport fishing organizations are calling on the federal government to implement a recommendation of the Cohen Commission report to remove open-pen salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30. (Tavish Campbell photo)

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

A broad coalition of First Nations leaders, wilderness tourism operators, environmental NGOs and commercial and sport fishing organizations gathered in North Vancouver Sept. 22 demanding the federal government fulfill recommendations of the Cohen Commission to immediately remove open-net salmon farms from the Discovery Islands, and abolish all others from BC waters by 2025.

A total of 101 B.C. First Nations have endorsed the conference’s demands, relating to the 2012 inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye. Justice Bruce Cohen issued 75 recommendations to government in his final report, including the removal of all 18 open net salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30 this year unless the spread of sea lice and viruses pose at most a minimal risk to wild fish.

But First Nations salmon advocate Robert Chamberlain accused Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) of minimizing the risks of salmon farms on wild stocks.

“I often tell people, ‘don’t mistake my passion for anger.’ Well I’m not saying that anymore. I’m angry. I don’t like what’s happened to the wild salmon of British Columbia. I don’t like that my great aunts and uncles are not able to eat foods that they have [eaten] their entire lives. That really pisses me off, and we have to stand up now or we’re not going to have this resource for our grandchildren.”

Roughly 270,000 sockeye are expected to return to the Fraser River this year, the lowest on record.

A number of factors are blamed for the crisis, including climate change and warming waters, over fishing and increased predation from protected marine mammals. However opponents of salmon farms point to independent studies that indicate lice loads in sea farms are causing devastating impacts on vulnerable out-migrating juvenile salmon. The industry and DFO disputes these claims.

Citing the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1990, known as the Sparrow Decision after the late Musqueam gill netter Ronald Sparrow that helped cement Aboriginal fishing rights across the country, Musqueam Indian Band Chief Wayne Sparrow said his nation is prepared to return to court to force the implementation of the Cohen recommendations.

“We were asleep at the wheel for a while, thinking that those recommendations were going to be adhered to by the federal government,” Sparrow said.

“We’ll fight back. We’ve tried sitting at the table to try to get the governments to listen to us, and it’s fallen on deaf ears. If they continue to not listen to us, Musqueam is in a position to take up Sparrow 2 and extend our rights that were proven in 1990.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to transition open-net pens from all B.C. waters by 2025. But Jordan has since clarified a workable plan will be in place by that date, with implementation possibly years later, worrying wild salmon advocates that change might come too late.

READ MORE: Conservation group challenges sustainable-certification claims of B.C. salmon farmer

Numerous First Nations leaders echoed Sparrow’s frustration with DFO over what many see as a conflict of interest in its role to both protect wild salmon and promote salmon farming. Justice Cohen also noted the potential for conflict of interest, and recommended oversight of salmon farms be transferred to another department.

Judy Wilson, a member of the Shuswap Nation and Secretary-Treasurer for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, compared the struggle to protect wild salmon to a state of war.

“But this war is different; it’s policy and legislation and unilateral decisions being made by DFO.

“What government, what department has the right to ignore the law of the lands, especially to ignore our Indigenous laws of our land. Our nations are outside the treaty process, so we’ve never relinquished or surrendered any of our land or waters to the government … we need DFO to vacate. We need DFO to totally reform.”

Representatives of the commercial fishing sector joined the press conference with similar demands.

Dane Chauvel with the Commercial Fisherman Troller Association said fishermen are reporting unprecedented lice loads on out-migrating salmon smolts. He acknowledged First Nations have more political clout than the commercial sector and hoped for further cooperation to reverse the environmental and socio-economic consequences of the salmon crisis.

“Coastal and Indigenous communities have been decimated over the past decades, and this decimation has coincided with the emergence of open-net pen salmon farming,” he said.

“It certainly was laid out in the Cohen inquiry as a smoking gun. When we look at neighbouring jurisdictions like Alaska, where they don’t have open pen salmon fisheries, they have vibrant coastal fishing communities and healthy ecosystems and healthy salmon returns. We don’t have that in British Columbia.”

Salmon farms are required to treat their salmon when lice loads exceed three per fish. The first fix is a chemical feed, but as lice immunity increasing salmon farms have invested heavily in mechanical treatments using fresh water baths and pressurized water.

Last June Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, released a report based on data supplied by salmon farm operators that argued these treatments were ineffective when lice levels exceed the DFO limits.

READ MORE: Sea lice counts under-reported on B.C. salmon farms: study

Speaking at Tuesday’s conference Wristen said at one point during the study up to 99 per cent of out migrating juvenile salmon were infested with sea lice at potentially lethal numbers.

The salmon farm industry has challenged that report over its methodology used the same data to show treatments were effective a vast majority of the time.

“There’s been extensive research done in the decade since the Cohen Commission that indicates salmon farms are not harming the health of wild salmon population,” Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association said. “We must of course farm responsibly and effectively manage issues such as sea lice, which we do.”

The sector is required by DFO to publicly report sea lice findings and other operational data on a regular basis.

Hall points to numerous studies supporting the efficacy of sea lice treatments.

In January last year DFO also released a study prompted by the Cohen recommendations that found the risk of the Piscine orthoreovirus pathogen spreading from farms to Fraser River sockeye is also minimal.

Correction: An earlier version of this stories referenced independent studies on sea lice and viruses related to salmon farms, when the studies pertain only to sea lice. The above story has been corrected.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Kristy Bjarnason will be filling in the position left vacant by Darrell Hill. (Councillor Kristy Bjarnason Facebook photo/Lakes District News)
Kristy Bjarnason elected to be the new councillor

Preliminary election results for the 2021 by-election declared

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

Car flipped. (Laura Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)
Truck rolled over in the ditch

On Jan. 26, at approximately 2:24 a.m., a truck lost control and… Continue reading

Most Read