It's the latest push in the intergenerational struggle to protect wild Pacific salmon. First Nations leaders have been occupying fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago for over 200 days. Now, David Suzuki has invited top British Columbia chefs who are concerned with the wellbeing of wild salmon to add their voice to the resistance.
"We're not against fish farms," Suzuki declared before the press conference. "We're against open-net fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago."
"This group of chefs is trying to tell us, you can’t have nutritious healthy food, if the ocean aren’t healthy," said David Suzuki. "We want healthy oceans, so we can continue to serve some of the best food on the planet."
Suzuki invited David Hawksworth of Hawksworth Restaurant, Robert Clark of The Fish Counter, Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo's, Jeremy Belcourt of Salmon n' Bannock and Meeru Dhalwala of Vij's and Rangoli, to publicly appeal to the government to stop farmed salmon. All of the chefs refuse to serve farmed Atlantic salmon in their restaurants.
Salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago are placed along an essential migratory route for juvenile wild salmon. Suzuki said diseases, like sea-lice, accumulate in the open-net pens and affect the ocean waters and wild fish populations. Wild herring and other species are attracted to the open-nets, he said, and are eaten by the farmed salmon, especially at night, when workers shine lights on the water.
"In other words, they're depleting the wild salmon," he said.
Last year, 300,000 farmed Atlantic salmon escaped their nets and are now being found along the coast of B.C., calling again into question the durability and safety of open-nets on rough ocean waters. Video footage of blood from a fish processing/packaging plant spewing into open waters kept the spotlight on fish farm issue last fall. And Washington State decided to end open-net pen Atlantic salmon farms last month, making B.C. the only jurisdiction on the west coast of North America to allow them.
"We need to nurture a healthy and sustainable environment for the future and future generations," said Hawksworth. "Our government needs to do more to protect our wild salmon."
All chefs in attendance signed their names to a letter of more than 50 chefs calling for the B.C. government to take action to protect wild salmon.
"As a chef, I have appreciated the diversity our wild salmon brings to our Nation's table," said chef Robert Clark. "Over the last 20 years, we have seen the health of this natural and renewable resource decline. It's well documented that open-net salmon farming has been detrimental to our wild pacific salmon and we believe it needs to stop. And it needs to happen today."
Jeremy Belcourt is Nuxalk and Métis and the head chef of the only First Nations restaurant in B.C., Salmon n' Bannock.
"As an Indigenous person, wild salmon is extremely important to me," he added. "It is the lifeline of our culture. Any threats or risk to the wellbeing of wild salmon stocks are a form of colonialism, not unlike the desecration of the bison on the prairies. It's time people start to care for the wild salmon and take the necessary measures, before it's too late."
Hidekazu Tojo also linked the health of the salmon the health of his culture.
"This species is very special to me. It's an important part of the Japanese culture," he said. "We need to make sure our food is fresh, healthy, sustainable and supports local economies. We need to protect our resources and our heritage."
The only female chef at the table, head chef Meeru Dhalwala, said she doesn't serve salmon at her restaurant at the moment. She wants to be sure of the health of the food before she serves, she said. But she's also concerned that the group was "preaching to the choir."
"How do we educate others on the issue?" she asked. "We need to get it out there that there are other sustainable alternatives to farmed salmon. We need to get more people involved, to care about the future and feel empowered by it."
David Suzuki said there are a number of valuable objections to farmed fish, grounded in science. In the mid 1990s, Dr. Michael Easton conducted a study for the David Suzuki foundation, comparing the flesh of farmed salmon to wild salmon. At the time, when fish farms were still considered an experiment, the study showed significantly higher levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), Suzuki said.
In February of 2001, the auditor general of Canada said that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), was not meeting its legal obligations to protect wild salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming, Suzuki added. In June, the federal standing senate committee on fisheries said they recommend that DFO define the precautionary approach, as it pertains to aquaculture. In other words, they called for a change in the ways the fish farms were being managed, in order to prevent the situation faced today.
"That wasn't done," Suzuki said. "Here we are, 14 years later, and the Indigenous peoples, whose waters are heavily impacted by these farms, are still pleading to do what has been called for since 2001."
Present at the event was Chief Ernest Alfred of the ‘Namgis, Lawit’sis and Mamalilikala Nations. Alfred has been a leading part of on-going fish farm opposition in his territories since the end of last summer.
The Government of British Columbia released a report today that it received from the Minister of Agriculture's Advisory Council on Finfish Aquaculture. The report provides strategic, immediate and long-term recommendations by an advisory council formed in 2016.
In an email response to questions about efforts to protect Pacific wild salmon, Michelle Rainer from Fisheries and Oceans Canada said salmon farms are required to monitor and report regularly on fish health as a condition of license.
"DFO conducts more than 100 fish health/sea lice audits each year in addition to regular inspections for farm compliance," she wrote. "DFO scientists in Pacific Region are involved in 17 active research projects examining issues such as fish diseases, wild-cultured species interactions and habitat impacts related to aquaculture."
Rainer also wrote that it wasn't possible for the fish farms to prevent wild fish from entering the open-net pens.
"To ensure the health of farmed salmon and the structural integrity farms, nets must allow water to flow in and out and be strong enough to withstand environmental conditions and predator attack. For this reason it is not possible to prevent wild fish from entering net pens," she said. "DFO’s current management approach aims to minimize harm to wild fish through licence conditions that manage harvest and transfer events."
This article was edited on Apr.9, to include comments received by email on Apr. 6, from Michelle Rainer, communications advisor for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.