First Nations are cheering a recent decision by the federal government rejecting an application by Cermaq Canada to restock two Atlantic salmon feedlots in the Discovery Islands located northeast of Campbell River between Quadra and Sonora Islands.
In an email to Canada’s National Observer, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan called the decision difficult but one that was “made after careful consideration of multiple factors, including environmental and socio-economic concerns, as well as input from Indigenous communities and the aquaculture industry.”
Cermaq, headquartered in Norway and owned by Mitsubishi Corporation, wanted to transfer 1.5 million fish to its Venture Point and Brent island sites and extend operating licenses at the two farms until February 2023. However, both were denied by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DF0.)
The federal government has committed to removing 19 controversial fish farms from the Discovery Islands by July 2022, a commitment that critics say will be a big victory for wild salmon who can now avoid being infected with sea lice and other pathogens associated with open-net Atlantic salmon factories.
On May 23, critics of the industry opposed the transfer of feedlot-raised Atlantic salmon, and any licence extensions launched a flotilla, accompanied by hereditary and elected chiefs, to protest at floating feedlots in the Okisollo Channel.
Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, says Ottawa’s rejection of Cermaq’s restocking and license extension is an important step toward removing contentious fish farms from the Discovery Islands.
“I’ve had emails from all across British Columbia from First Nations leadership that are very pleased with this decision,” Chamberlin said in a National Observer report. “It prioritizes the protection of wild salmon stocks in British Columbia that are certainly in an extinction spiral and in need of every measure of protection possible.”
Chamberlain called wild salmon “foundational” to First Nations food security and that “dismal (salmon) returns” are impacting families and communities.
Cermaq Canada, which had negotiated an agreement with the Wei Wai Kum First Nation around restocking the sites and licence extensions, is disappointed by Jordan’s decision, said the company’s managing director David Kiemele in an email statement.
“It displays a lack of acknowledgment of the rights of the Wei Wai Kum Nation to make decisions regarding their core territory,” Kiemele said.
However, DFO says the phaseout of fish farms in the Discovery Islands emerged from consultations with seven First Nations whose traditional territories cover the region – including the Wei Wai Kum.
According to the fisheries minister, DFO plans to work with the BC government and key partners to ensure the province is a world leader in sustainable, environmentally responsible aquaculture.
“That includes finalizing our plan to transition away from open-net pens and developing Canada’s first-ever national Aquaculture Act.”