A coalition of First Nations is calling on the federal government to renew salmon farm licences in B.C. this year, saying aquaculture is a vehicle for self-determination, economic development and reconciliation.

The politics of fish farming is heating up again as Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) prepares to review 79 salmon farm operating licences slated to expire in June.

The pending licence decisions will be made as the federal Fisheries Ministry also works to develop a transition plan by 2025 to shift away from open-net pen salmon farming.

An estimated 276 jobs and $50 million per year are generated by salmon farming for coastal Indigenous communities, according to the Coalition for First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS).

First Nations supportive of salmon farming are entitled to make economic decisions in their territories, and failing to renew operating licences would violate the federal government’s stated commitment to reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous peoples, said Dallas Smith, FNFFS spokesperson and member of the Tlowitsis Nation.

First Nations need to be able to carve out their unique paths to self-determination, Smith said.

“This applies to nations that wish to pursue salmon farming.”

The coalition respects what “works for one nation might not work for another,” he added.

“Rights-holders can decide for themselves what the transition of salmon farming means to them,” Smith said.

“How the sector will be managed and overseen in each territory will look as unique as the nations themselves.”

First Nations in favour of salmon farming are entitled to make economic decisions in their territories, and should Ottawa fail to reissue operating licences, it's violating its stated commitment to Indigenous rights, says a new coalition. #FishFarms

The coalition highlighted the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Tlowitsis, Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw, Wei Wai Kum and Ahousaht as coastal First Nations that derive positive benefits from agreements with fish farm companies.

The coalition wants DFO to reissue the licences with a minimum five-year term and fully engage with nations on its aquaculture transition plan, Smith said.

The details and nature of the plan need to be the result of a collective discussion, he said, adding government can’t acknowledge Indigenous rights and title and reserve the right to be the sole decision-maker, he said.

The salmon farming industry often provides year-round employment and economic development opportunities in remote First Nations where such jobs are scarce, the coalition said.

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray was unavailable for comment, but work on the plan to transition away from the use of open-net pens in B.C. waters continues, said press secretary Claire Teichman in an email.

The transition plan will provide a vision to create economic opportunities for communities that rely on fish farming, she added.

However, the ministry did not clarify whether all existing salmon farm licences will be renewed by June or if they’ll be impacted or curtailed by the future transition plan.

“DFO is in consultation with the licence-holders and a decision will be made in the coming months,” Teichman said.

In recent years, climate change — compounded by landslides, flooding, habitat loss and fishing pressures — has negatively affected Pacific salmon at every stage of the life cycle, the ministry said.

Most First Nations that are socially, culturally and economically dependent on the dwindling stocks of wild salmon support a shift away from open-net pen farming, said Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance.

Chamberlin said salmon farming amplifies the threat of disease and parasites on diminishing wild stocks, adding more than 100 First Nations support a transition to closed containment.

Salmon are not a static resource limited to one nation’s territory, he said, and any negative impacts to wild stocks have wide-ranging effects.

“I can see one nation making a decision specific to their own territory,” Chamberlin said.

“But there are impacts and infringement of other Aboriginal rights associated with the migratory nature of salmon by allowing a fish farm to operate.”

Responsible salmon farming doesn’t adversely impact wild salmon, and First Nations that support the industry are actively involved in monitoring and holding aquaculture companies accountable, the coalition said in a statement.

A nation-to-nation negotiating process with the federal government needs to take place, similar to the process that occurred in the Broughton Archipelago, even though that resulted in the graduated removal of farms in the region, Smith said

“We’re asking to have a similar process … but not with a predetermined result on the removal of farms,” he said.

There needs to be real deliberation on the nature of the transition of salmon farming with the First Nations involved, he said.

“We want and deserve that. Those discussions have to happen.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

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I was sort of going hmmm and half nodding until I got to the bit where the groups supporting fish farming described themselves as "coastal First Nations that derive positive benefits from agreements with fish farm companies."
Derive positive benefits. Agreements with. So they're not doing their own fish farming; translate this out a bit and they were bribed, by people who came to their place and started using the resources and have made themselves the only game in town.

People, I sympathize with your situation, but I'm not going to listen to you and you are bad strategists.