First male voice: My main thought would be outside our authority, but if the vessel has been involved in possible criminal activity in the past, CSBA could use their authority to deny access.
Sandra: In 2021, I made a freedom of information request with the federal government. I wanted to know if Canada Border Services’ decision — to delay the Sea Shepherd’s ship Martin Sheen entry at Victoria — was influenced in any way by Fisheries and Oceans. I got back 1,500 pages of documents: reports, emails, meeting notes.
It turns out several government agencies were interested in the Martin Sheen long before it arrived in Canada for its third summer season supporting the salmon researchers. Including a lobbyist. And they were all looking for a reason to deny entry.
Maple Leaf Strategies was working on behalf of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. Its members include fish farms. The company has been described as one of the most influential lobbyists in the country. This is an excerpt from an email it sent to the government.
Second male voice: For the past few weeks, we have been exploring between Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada and Public Safety which government department has oversight and approval of foreign vessels entering Canadian waters for the purpose of research activities.
Sandra: Maple Leaf Strategies was writing to the deputy minister of Transport Canada. It had a copy of Alex Morton’s DFO research licence and raised questions about it in the email.
Second male voice: The Martin Sheen vessel is not listed as one of the two vessels she intends to use this year — yet we know it is on its way to B.C., and on social media, the Sea Shepherd Society has stated they are sailing to Canadian waters to aid in "research" efforts. Of paramount concern is both the safety of the farms and the fish that are being grown, as well as the farm workers who are ultimately harassed by the protests that frequently result and the farm occupations that can ensue.
Sandra: Transport Canada responded that Sea Shepherd did not need a reason to enter Canadians waters and under maritime law, it would be hard to deny entry. Transport Canada was referring to the section of the law that said a ship must be allowed “innocent passage” through a country’s waters provided it does no harm to the country or breaks any laws. Since Sea Shepherd’s Martin Sheen had not broken any laws, it would be hard to deny entry.
Maple Leaf Strategies then contacted the deputy minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. It provided the background of its work with other agencies and then asked in the email …
Second male voice: Given the track record of the Sea Shepherd Society and the use of their vessel to facilitate protests and not research — and the fact they are not listed as part of the DFO-issued research licence — the sector has been seeking for several weeks to inquire whether third parties can come forward and be included in a formal process to provide information or express concern before vessels are permitted to enter Canadian waters.
Sandra: Maple Leaf Strategies is essentially asking if the fish farm industry could make a case to keep the Martin Sheen out of Canada. The email went on to ask …
Second male voice: Is there any oversight of these vessels if, in fact, they are in breach of licence conditions? Can a vessel be revoked or not permitted to enter Canadian waters absent being included in a research application? Apologies for this outreach but we have had troubles trying to get clear answers on this process. Happy to discuss further or provide any background information.
Sandra: As I worked through the released documents, it became clear that Maple Leaf Strategies’ email generated a lot of discussion in Fisheries and Oceans and other agencies about how to respond. In the days following, emails between DFO employees flew back and forth.
First male voice: I assume that we don’t allow a process to let third parties come forward and express concerns, but there is oversight, and actions can be taken to address breaches to licence conditions.
Sandra: Fisheries and Oceans has an investigative arm. It’s called the National Fisheries Intelligence Service and it was providing the intelligence reports on the Martin Sheen. In a report dated May 1, 2018, the concern was the ship would generate media attention supporting protests against salmon aquaculture. The report mentions the Martin Sheen has been monitored since 2016 when it first came to B.C.
First male voice: Research concerns: “The reported use of drones, divers and proximity to aquaculture sites creates risks to persons and operations and impacts both the safety of employees and orderly conduct of the fisheries.”
Sandra: A report two days later had the subject line: “Travel of the RV Martin Sheen to Canada and its involvement with researcher.” And the researcher’s name is blacked out. It is obviously Alexandra Morton.
First male voice: Of concern to fish farm operators was the way in which the crew interacted with Marine Harvest staff, engaging them in conversation in an attempt to obtain a Mort.
Sandra: Keep in mind, this is the third year the Martin Sheen would travel around B.C. fish farms. No laws have been broken. There has been no violence. But Fisheries and Oceans’ investigative arm is watching them — and creating dossiers on the ship’s crew, researchers from the University of Toronto, and Alex Morton.
First male voice: Get them to clarify what they are seeking to be included in the target profiles — what kind of information would assist their purpose. And also requesting background checks on individuals and anything else that will assist in our investigation.
Sandra: Welcome to The Salmon People podcast. I’m Sandra Bartlett. This podcast is a co-production with Canada's National Observer. We are crowdfunding to cover the cost of this podcast. If you’d like to support us, you can find a link in the show notes telling you how.
Today’s episode: Intimidation
Sandra: CTV News was the first to report the Martin Sheen had not been allowed entry at Victoria harbour. The captain was ordered to remain on the ship and a hearing would be held on Monday morning. There was a renewed flurry of emails amongst Fisheries and Oceans staff as to how to respond to the request for comment from CTV.
CTV News said border agents told them it was DFO that wanted entry denied. And the ship was stopped because “there was no need for research regarding salmon farms because DFO already does research.” In the end, DFO responded with a brief comment to CTV that Fisheries and Oceans does not influence the decisions of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
But the brainstorming in those emails about the Martin Sheen’s movements came out clearly in the questioning at the Monday morning hearing.
Locky Maclean: I showed up there on the Monday at 11 o'clock, Customs House, Blanshard Street in Victoria, for an examination into the issue.
Sandra: Locky Maclean was born and raised in B.C.’s Gulf Islands. At the time, he’d been with Sea Shepherd on and off for almost two decades. He had his captain’s papers and he was in charge of the Operation Virus Hunter campaign. He was the one ultimately in charge of the Martin Sheen when it was in B.C. So he appeared with the captain at the Monday morning hearing, which would decide if the ship could enter Canada.
Locky: And this lasted about two hours … and what they wanted for me was to basically relay the nature of the vessel's voyage. What the campaign was all about. Who was going to be on board. This kind of stuff.
Sandra: Locky says it was an unprecedented infringement of privacy — forcing the ship’s captain to provide the names of the guests.
Locky: And I think I replied at the time like, Look, if you've got an American yacht coming up here with, let's say, you know, some high rollers and they want to spend a couple of weeks, you know, cruising around the B.C. you know, 200-foot commercial private luxury yacht, you know, you could have any number of people joining and leaving the ship at any given time. Guests, charter guests, VIP, you know. None of this type of reporting would be required.
Sandra: There were suggestions that the Martin Sheen should be categorized as a foreign research ship conducting scientific research in Canada — which would have required a lot of paperwork.
Locky: And my response to that was, well, any research being done is being done by either the University of Toronto, independent biologist Alexandra Morton, or, you know, First Nations guests that are on board simply documenting the voyage. So, the actual collecting and gathering of information is very much local. It sounded like what they really wanted was for us not to conduct this independent science into the effects of salmon farms on migratory salmon. That was basically what they were getting at — DFO was doing this work, who are you guys to come in here and do this? So anyway, they did impose the obligations.
Sandra: Locky believes the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wanted to stop the Martin Sheen from helping First Nations, Alexandra Morton and her colleagues from getting close to the fish farms.
Locky: After the clearance was granted, one officer stated to me that it was best to avoid a situation that could become a headache for Ottawa. So, I didn't know what that meant, but that was the advice I was given on leaving the building.
Sandra: So, for its 2018 tour, the Martin Sheen had to travel outside Canadian waters every 30 days and then re-enter. They had extra paperwork to do and they were given the unusual stipulation that they must send an email to Customs every time the ship moved.
MUSIC — Investigation
Sandra: Alex Morton didn’t even want to get on the Martin Sheen that year. For the first time in her life, she was hit with depression. She told the crew she wasn’t coming.
Alex: I told them, I said, “Look, I can't do it, I'm too exhausted, I'm too grumpy, I just can't do it.” And the woman who was the campaign manager … she worked on me. And finally, I was like, “OK, OK, OK, I'm going to try it. I’ll commit to two weeks.”
Sandra: But this would be a summer of one strange thing after another.
Alex: So, the first thing that happened to me … just in the week and a half before I got on the boat [was] my Gmail account got taken over by somebody. I couldn't get into it anymore.
Sandra: She called Google Gmail customer service and was told her password had been changed.
Alex: And it was quite a job to get it back. And they said, Gmail, said it was somebody in Toronto.
Sandra: She had to provide all sorts of evidence that she was the real Alexandra Morton before she got her email account back. Then something else strange happened.
Alex: A couple of days later, I got a phone call from a fisherman and he said, “Look, I don't know if this has anything to do with you, but my son went for a job interview with a company that is calling itself Black Cube. And he said they have surveillance equipment; they're hiring medics and divers and videographers. And he said, you should take a look at the website Black Cube.” And so, I did.
Sandra: Alex googled Black Cube. She learned that Black Cube is an Israeli intelligence company with offices in Tel Aviv, London and Madrid. They describe themselves as “a select group of veterans from Israeli elite intelligence units” that specializes in tailored solutions to complex business and litigation challenges.
“We help our clients adopt a proactive approach to litigation and conflict resolution by providing intelligence that can later be used as evidence in court.”
Alex: I actually thought it was a hoax. It was so sinister.
MUSIC BLACK CUBE DANGER
Sandra: Many people on the coast had seen two boats with blacked-out windows and long camera lenses sticking out of small window openings. And the fisherman’s warning was prescient — the boats started following the Martin Sheen and Alex in her own boat every day.
Alex: So, I called out to the guys in the boat, “Are you with Black Cube?” And they said then, you know, there's a non sequitur. Some of them were clearly local guys.
Sandra: Except for one guy.
Alex: And there was another one, another fellow on the boat, though, who was very European-looking, you know, well-styled. And he had a little suitcase with wheels on it, which, you know, people in Campbell River who are getting on a boat are probably not going to have a little suitcase with wheels on it. It just looked out of place.
Sandra: Alex still couldn’t believe these guys were with the Israeli company Black Cube. She looked up the B.C. business licence and found a local man registered the name Black Cube Strategies. It had received its business licence on June 18. On July 9th, it was advertising for “risk management personnel” in five local towns. Two days later, the boats were following her.
Alex: So we began taking pictures back, but they followed us. You know, everywhere we went, they were behind us. If we were sitting in harbours at anchor, they drifted in the harbour with us.
Sandra: Locky Maclean had just finished arguing with Canada border control for the Martin Sheen to be allowed into Canada — and now this. Locky saw the man with the roller bag.
Locky: So, these guys were clearly, you know, not from Vancouver Island or B.C., or they'd flown in from somewhere to take on this contract. And that was pretty clear to me. You know, they're paying a sizable amount to charter a boat daily for the whole summer. Definitely it felt like a professional operation of some kind.
Sandra: And strange things happened when the boats were around.
One day when the Martin Sheen got near a Marine Harvest fish farm, open Wi-Fi networks showed up on their laptops. This means they weren’t password-protected and anyone could log on. One was called Martin Sheen, but it wasn’t the ship’s network — it was a duplicate. And sometimes computers and phones will automatically connect to open networks. The crew began to have computer issues.
And one day, there was a balloon-looking thing up in the air a short distance from the Martin Sheen.
Locky: OK, we've got this balloon being deployed, and there's this very strange kind of network that's popped up … a new Wi-Fi network that wasn't there previously. And it wouldn't be hard for them to deploy a balloon with some, you know, Wi-Fi equipment on it that could basically capture the communications.
Sandra: Another evening, some of the crew on the ship watched a movie called, Master and Commander. The next day they noticed the boats following them had changed their VHF radio call signs — or name — to Master and Commander.
Alex: And when that happened, it became clear that they were listening to us because the coincidence that they would use those words, master and commander, the day after that film had played in the wheelhouse of the Martin Sheen was just too great.
Locky: I didn't fear for the safety of my crew on board. But I did feel like, you know, there was some serious clout and money being put behind gathering intelligence on our movements.
Sandra: The next day, Alex filed a report with the RCMP.
Alex: I said, “Look, I think I need to make a report here about what is going on.” But at the end of it, the young officers were like, “I don't know what to do about this. My suggestion is don't go anywhere alone.”
Sandra: But, of course, she did. She had to because when she took days off from the ship, she travelled in her own boat.
SFX — Aug. 18 — Lapping waters/Alex’s boat
Alex: And on one circumstance, I was out on my boat fishing and they were following me and I just, OK, I'd had it. So I turned around and I went right up to them.
Alex: “Hello? Who are you guys? Who are you? Why are you following me? What’s the plan?”
SFX — Black Cube/small boat
Alex: And they took off and fled across Blackfish … way faster than me. But I followed them and they stopped again and I circled them and they had all their doors shut, all their windows shut. They were black. You couldn't see into it and they wouldn't talk to me.
Sandra: She headed home and posted a video of the confrontation on Facebook. And she went to the Black Cube website — the Israeli Black Cube.
Alex: And I noticed that they had an office in Toronto, which, FYI, is where Gmail said somebody had taken over my email account. Anyway, I wrote him an email and I said, “Look, this behaviour has to stop. This is unacceptable. What are you guys doing? If you want to talk to me, just call me.” I got an answer immediately from a lawyer, and he said, “It's not us.”
Sandra: The name Black Cube is a registered trademark — like McDonald’s or Amazon or Google. And if someone started a business using one of those names, they would likely find themselves in court — being sued.
Alex: I said, “OK, wait a minute. A company was formed in Campbell River days before this harassment started and they are called Black Cube Strategies.” And the lawyer said, “Well, they took over our name and we will deal with that.” Well, they didn't deal with that. The company persisted for another year and a bit.
Sandra: According to the City of Campbell River company registration, Black Cube Strategies and Consulting remained active for another two years until September of 2020.
Alex’s Facebook post got some media attention and the spokesperson for Marine Harvest admitted to a newspaper the company had hired Black Cube Strategies because it was concerned for the safety of its employees on the fish farms and the verbal abuse being hurled at them.
Ian Roberts: We decided to hire a local company that would have an objective presence in the area. They're trained in de-escalation and they would provide security for our staff. That is what we hired them to do. These conspiracy theories or rumours that this security company was … anything more than that is, quite simply put, nonsense.
Sandra: Ian Roberts has been with Marine Harvest for more than 25 years, mainly in communications and as a spokesperson. I asked him about the name.
Ian: Well, we certainly have no bearing on their choice of name. And I think there can be company names in different countries in the world that are the same. Purely by coincidence, I happen to know the owner of this security company and we used to attend local hockey games in Campbell River together. So, I know that this security company was based in Campbell River and had absolutely no affiliation with other companies around the world that happened to be named the same.
SFX — Boat idling
Sandra: Alex’s friend, Bill Mackay, had a run-in with one of the boats at the dock in Port McNeill. He was about to take a boatload of tourists out whale watching when he noticed the boat with the blacked-out windows.
Bill Mackay: One of the boats pulled right in front of our passenger vessel and the fellow stepped out of it. And I went over to him. I said, “Sir, I'm Captain Bill Mackay and who are you?” And he wouldn't say his name. “That's fine,“ I said, “but can you explain the black boat windows?” And so, he just declined and actually got quite belligerent.
Sandra: Bill says he likes to be able to see the skipper in the boat at the controls, that way, he knows the skipper sees him, too, and won’t run into his boat.
SFX — Black Cube at Mackay boat Mixdown
Bill: It was threatening. I didn’t appreciate that. And my daughter was coming down the dock, she could see her dad in somewhat of a discussion with this very tall guy and, you know, quite bulky … standing probably within a few inches of my face and with his finger pointing at my chest. And I thought, “You know, that really is aggressive because that's not our nature, we don’t do that stuff.”
SFX — Boat idling
Sandra: Passengers for his whale-watching tour were filing by, getting on his boat.
Bill: And so, my daughter stepped in between the two of us and said, “Dad, what's going on?” I said, “Well, you have these blacked out windows and this guy … really seems to be quite upset that I've … I requested what is he up to.” And he wouldn't reply, but there were lots of colourful metaphors directed to me, you know. She just looked at me. She said, “Dad, he's a bully. Leave it alone.”
Sandra: After that, sometimes the boat would follow Bill’s whale-watching tours, taking pictures. One day, he was taking out a group of photographers. They had high-end cameras with long lenses. When Bill saw the blacked-out boat start to follow, he asked his passengers to take pictures of the boat and the crew.
Bill: And with that, wow, these people who were holding the cameras on the small black vessel disappeared quickly and closed the door.
FADE OUT SFX — Boat idling
Sandra: Bill also filed a report with the RCMP, but nothing ever came of it.
Ian Roberts of Mowi told me he has never heard of this incident.
Ian: This is the first I heard of anything like this. And honestly, I can't respond to hearsay. I can't respond to this speculation. I've never heard of it before. And I would suggest that if this particular incident happened, that this person would have reported it to police and it would be a police matter.
Sandra: Then suddenly, two months after it started, the surveillance stopped and the boats disappeared. Alex was relieved — it was one less tension in her life. The final court ruling that ended the occupation of the Swanson Lake fish farm came out in August. The ruling put a restriction on Alex’s access to all Marine Harvest fish farms. Alex was still travelling to the fish farms on the Martin Sheen. But once there, she would leave the ship and get into a fishing boat to get up close to the pens and collect water samples.
Bring up SFX fishing boat then fade under
Sandra: The court said this boat could be no bigger than 2.6 metres. That’s about 8 feet, about half the size of your average canoe.
But she went for it. She got a small, inflatable dinghy and rowed to the fish farms, rocking in the waves, and posted videos on Facebook. The videos got a lot of attention and Alex’s lawyer was able to get the ruling changed so Alex could use her own boat — but she had to be alone in the boat, no other passengers.
Karissa Glendale: So the fish farms were granted the injunctions. We had only a few days to remove our structures and everything off of the fish farms. And after that, we weren’t allowed to step foot on the farms again.
Alex: Ernest Alfred has an incredible flair for brilliant actions, and he said, “Let's plan a big event on the final day that we're allowed to be here.” And so, over 100 people showed up in various boats. It was incredible. So, the whale-watching boats came, lodge owners came, fishermen, people in their own speed boats, and they circled the farm drumming. And a lot of chiefs came.
Sandra: After the court injunction forced Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred and his niece Karissa Glendale to leave Swanson Island fish farm, everyone wondered what they should do next. Karissa still believed she owed it to the next generation to help the wild salmon return.
Karissa: I don't want to just tell stories, I want to actually show them how to do it so that they can show their kids in the future.
Sandra: Bob Chamberlin from the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation was thinking the same thing. This was the time to act.
Bob Chamberlin: The Office of the Auditor General of Canada had a scathing report about DFO’s lack of awareness and monitoring of disease transfer. So, the auditor general cannot be characterized as an activist.
Sandra: Bob was at a meeting of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs where NDP Leader John Horgan promised support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples if the NDP became the government in 2017. Bob took the opportunity to invite him to a meeting in the Big House in Campbell River … an invitation newly elected Premier John Horgan took him up on.
There were several hundred people at the meeting in the Big House, representing a dozen First Nations. They sat on bleachers in a circle with a roaring fire in the centre. They talked about salmon.
Bob: We long spoke about the concerns of wild salmon in our traditional territories. We spoke about the incredible cultural significance of salmon to our people.
Sandra: Premier Horgan talked about creating legislation in B.C. to embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He said he wanted First Nations’ input to do that.
Premier Horgan: I am prepared to meet again at a location of your choosing to talk … but today, I came to hear… We need to work together … to protect the salmon for all of us …
(fade under next graph)
Sandra: The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, known as UNDRIP, was passed in 2007. It sets out the minimum standards for survival, dignity and well-being. And most importantly, it recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination, which includes the right “to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” In 2007, 144 countries adopted UNDRIP. But not Canada. It didn’t endorse it until 2016.
Kelly Speck: It was quite a historic occasion in local eyes because it's the first time a sitting premier has sat down in our Big House to a meeting with hereditary leaders. Some of the people from the occupation, some young people, some matriarchs.
Sandra: Kelly Speck is a member of 'Namgis First Nation and lives in Alert Bay. Like everyone along the coast, she fished with her parents as a child.
Kelly: Well, I guess being out on the boat by the time I was six and onward, you were often leaving on Sunday and you'd be returning home on Fridays, Saturdays. There would be net repairs for the crew. And for somebody like me, you had to do the grocery shopping and get the boat cleaned up and ready to go, and then you'd leave again on Sunday.
Sandra: She remembers it as exciting and fun.
Kelly: You know, the fleet was quite large. So, and many of our community members and family members who lived elsewhere were also working on the water. But in the evenings when fishing ended, you quite often had the opportunity to tie up together. So, there'd be all sorts of socializing going on across the fishing boats.
Sandra: But then, as many did, she went off to university and to jobs on the mainland. She was a policy adviser and then an assistant deputy minister in three different departments for the B.C. government. And this is where she learned about consultation, negotiation and deal-making. In 2013, Kelly returned to Alert Bay to be with her aging parents. And by the end of that year, she was an elected councillor. Suddenly, she was negotiating with the forestry companies and the province on tree-harvesting licences. When Bob Chamberlin got Premier Horgan to agree to a meeting, it was clear that Kelly Speck should be there. The first meeting was in January 2018.
Bob Chamberlin: And it was a very large meeting because we had chief and council …
(fade down the list of nations)
Sandra: There were five First Nations in the beginning but two stepped back.
Kelly Speck: Because they are geographically quite distant and had not been involved in some of the fall meetings, they said, “Well, we're going to just watch this process. We're not sure we really want to be involved in the negotiations.” We left open the door for them to join us.
No one could be sure what would come out of the meeting with the B.C. premier, but First Nations were going in with a plan. Chief Bob Chamberlin says they wanted to take science out of the discussion.
Bob: And it had shown that it's got the legs to have an endless your science, my science, their science. You're all wrong. We're all wrong. Nobody's right. And that's where the status quo continues.
Sandra: For First Nations, the fight over science was just a way to do nothing to help the wild salmon. Kelly Speck says her people, the 'Namgis, knew this was a historic meeting but weren’t sure what would happen.
Kelly: Like, are they going to go far enough. For ourselves, I think we limited each nation to bringing three or four people because we again didn't want there to be an imbalance and too many people and too many voices at the meeting. So a number of deputy ministers, a number of senior policy analysts from the premier's office, and some Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials there observing the process.
Sandra: There was a suggestion that maybe DFO should be involved in the talks, but First Nations said, “No, no, not at this meeting.” When they arrived, there were DFO people in the room. The B.C. government quickly explained their presence by saying there was still some shared federal-provincial responsibility over the fish farms.
Kelly: A very sort of quiet, but fairly quick, conversation, then we said that it was fine that they were in the room. We would have preferred that we had been aware of that beforehand, and then we could have had this conversation. Instead, it kind of introduced an awkward note.
Sandra: The negotiating team led by Kelly Speck wanted to move fast on a letter of understanding that would create a clear guide for the negotiations.
Kelly: We were only there for several hours, really. By the time lunchtime happened, it was quite clear that we were going to be in a position to announce that, “Yes, there would be a negotiation of this letter of understanding.”
Sandra: Even with a letter of understanding, Kelly’s experience in government taught her there needed to be firm commitments on how the bureaucratic team was going to work to negotiate the details of an agreement.
Kelly: You know, they said, “We’ll have a team together.” There's got to be money. There has to be a clear path. Who is this team reporting to and getting directions from?
Sandra: There was some urgency. This was January and 10 fish farm tenures or licences were up for renewal in June. They were in the Broughton Archipelago off northern Vancouver Island. First Nations wanted the power to cancel those tenures. Kelly pushed for deadlines.
Kelly: These people cannot be doing this off the corner of their desk. They have to be … dedicated to getting this done. And maybe I'm being a bit of a bitch, but I've just seen things kind of dribble off, you know, you get your moment of political focus and then something else takes over.
Sandra: Everyone was at the news conference to announce the deal. Premier Horgan and government ministers, First Nation negotiators and industry — Cermaq and Mowi.
Premier Horgan: And so we signed a letter of intention, a letter of understanding, with the 'Namgis, with Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis and the Mamalilikulla First Nations to begin discussions and dialogue about how we could address Indigenous concerns about salmon aquaculture, but equally important — probably more important — how could we work together to re-establish wild salmon in the region.
Sandra: Premier Horgan said government-to-government meetings weren’t easy but they did manage to come up with a plan.
Premier: The plan we are announcing today will mean the closure of 10 farms in the Broughton over the short term that will create that safe migratory route, that corridor for young salmon. And sets in place a requirement for the existing farms to put more production in the water only with agreements with the Indigenous communities that are represented here
Sandra: There were seven more farms that could stay or go depending on First Nations approval.
Bob: We are going to achieve a lot of the dreams that have been spoken of by leaders long before mine.
Sandra: Mowi’s managing director, Dianne Morrison, said there would be minimal job losses from the closures as people would be moved to other farms — with hope those farms could stay open.
Dianne Morrison: And then the long-term transition, that’s our opportunity — through the relationship-building, through the monitoring program — to be able to stay in the Broughton.
Sandra: It Is hard to overstate what a big deal this was. It turned over power and authority to First Nations to make decisions about fish farms in their territory. Chief Bob Chamberlin says it was the first time that the UN declaration had been implemented in Canada.
Bob: And so it was the first time that we were able to have true shared decision-making in every way, shape and form on an industry’s activities in a traditional territory.
Sandra: Once the letter of understanding was announced, Alex Morton’s phone went crazy.
Alex: I realized something good was happening because I started to get texts from various people saying, “Which farms do you think should go first?” Wow, I've never received a text like that before.
Sandra: She couldn’t believe that after all these years fighting government, it would be the First Nations who would decide the future of the salmon farms.
The news release called it a ground-breaking government-to-government process to protect and restore the wild salmon and allow an orderly transition plan for open-pen finfish for the Broughton Archipelago. Then the real negotiations began.
Bob Chamberlin says at the beginning, it looked like it was going to be the same old, same old.
Bob: And so we were pushing for free prior and informed consent. That was the goal. But what we found was the government was still trying to hold on to the Crown making authority. So that means the Crown decides on the topic, the parameters, when we meet, any resourcing, if any. And then they say, “Thank you, we really appreciate you coming and expressing your concerns and we're going to strongly consider what you've said,” and then they disappear and make the decision.
Sandra: Lawyer Sean Jones was at the meetings representing the First Nations. He says industry clearly did think it was going to be the same old, same old.
Sean Jones: They came to those meetings, I think, with the presumption
their rights and interests were greater than the rights and interests of Indigenous people.
Sandra: But they were soon set straight.
Sean: I think they came to that meeting thinking that they weren't appearing before the steering committee, but that they were part of the steering committee and equal with the provincial government. And in one of the first meetings that one of these licensees attended, the chief negotiator for the province, quite frankly, asked them to leave. He said, “You've got expectations wrong here. You need to kind of go away. We're going to have a chat. Government to government. You go sit outside and we'll let you know when you can come back in.”
Sandra: Sean says after that, the industry understood that this time it was going to be different. During the negotiation period, industry was invited to meetings to make presentations and answer questions related to First Nations’ priority to protect wild fish. It was meant to help them make decisions on whether the fish farms stayed or closed.
Kelly: We had multiple presentations from them and we were … narrowing and narrowing and narrowing down what adjustment could they make in the Broughton [and] with what known impacts.
Sandra: Cermaq and Mowi appeared on separate days.
Kelly: And then we said, “Well, it doesn't really answer this concern about migrating salmon. Can you go away and come back with how you would address that?”
Sandra: So, the companies came back again — and again, and again — until they had answers for all the First Nations’ questions.
Kelly: What would you do with the staff and the production? In some cases, they didn't have an answer on production, but they could say, “Well, we might lose one or two people, but we've got enough operations they'll be something else so we can absorb them into.”
Sandra: The companies seemed to believe they could negotiate to remain. And it was the first time the companies were forced to share their plans.
Kelly: Well, I don't think they quite knew how initially to take this because we just said, “Well, we are going to make recommendations on whether your tenures should continue or if they impact it too much. We may recommend that they're not there. So why don't you just tell us what you want to tell us?” And so, they did.
Bob: It was an interesting experience … I remember quite clearly the CEO of one of these companies walking into the very first meeting [00:23:48] And the way I read his body language is: This is not how it's supposed to be.
Sandra: Bob says in the past, industry and government would walk into meetings together and sit on one side of the table — First Nations on the other side. He thinks the companies were a little taken aback at the shift.
Bob: And so this time, industry walked into the room where First Nations and the Crown were sitting as equals to receive information. For the government-to-government deliberations and planning and recommendation-setting and decision-making.
Kelly: Of course, they put their best foot forward. We expected that with all of their wonderful plans and technology and research that's going on. And you know how DFO didn't think they were having a negative impact on the environment, et cetera? You know, so they put forward this picture of themselves as a responsible green industry.
Sandra: But the PR campaign wouldn’t work this time.
Kelly: We challenged them … what about these studies?
Sandra: At first, the companies stayed with their talking points.
Kelly: And you know, initially it was, “We're not hurting wild salmon as much as you might think we are, you know.” We're just like, “No, no, how is this helping wild salmon that you're there? How would you change your operation if your focus was ours?” Our focus is on restoring stocks in out-migrating and saving passing stocks from the Fraser runs that pass through the Broughton on their way out to sea. We left it up to them, so they’d come back and they make another presentation and we'd say, “Well, you know, not really sure that answered our question.” And so off they would go and they would come back.
Sandra: The meetings went on for several months. And in September of 2019, First Nations made their decision.
Kelly: It was a rather remarkable process to get to the end where we had our recommendations on closing 10 of 17 farms over a two- or three-year period. and the remaining seven would start reaching their final production in the final two years. And at the end of it, if there was no new agreement with us, their tenures were over. So that was our recommendation. And they stood up with us at the announcement and said that they had been consulted numerous times, provided us all sorts of information, and indicated that they could still hold on to the hope that [of] the final seven farms, we might let one or more of them stay at the end of their tenure.
Sandra: After 20 years of fighting the fish farms, Alex Morton was watching all this with awe. But she was concerned that all the licences weren’t being cancelled immediately. She learned that was a deliberate tactic by First Nations.
Alex Morton: The companies have fish in the hatchery that they’re raising for a year before they put it out in the farm. They have this, they have that, there’s the next thing. It’s a big wheel. And to suddenly stop it, even though the paperwork says you can do that, you actually can’t.
Sandra: So, the First Nations gave the two companies, Mowi and Cermaq, a schedule for the closure of some of the farms and a time frame for deciding if the rest would also be closed.
Alex: And so, what the lawyer and the First Nations had worked out was … a schedule that wouldn’t … trigger an injunction but would start to provide relief for the fish right away.
Sandra: Alex crossed her fingers waiting to see if any of this would actually happen.
fade out A Quiet Place
Sandra: For Ernest Alfred, after 280 days occupying a fish farm, it felt like success.
Ernest Alfred: I would say this would be the beginning of the end for British Columbian fish farming. They’re going to be doing things in a different way, but they're not going to be doing it in our territory, they’re not going to be abusing our fish anymore. For the first time in their business, they'll have to shovel their own shit.
Next time on the Salmon People podcast — Minimal Risk.
Male voice: I am absolutely disgusted with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and their announcement. There is an absence of talk about sea lice. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
The Salmon People podcast is researched, written, and produced by me, Sandra Bartlett. It is a co-production with Canada’s National Observer.
Story editing by My Frozen Headphones Production. Sound engineering by Damian Kearns and Ben Ramos-Salsberg.
Special thanks to Dave Coutts and Damian Kearns for being the voices of the
Please consider giving us a five-star rating and leaving a comment. That helps more people find us.
The Sea Shepherd research vessel got a rude welcome when it arrived in Victoria, B.C., for its third year of working with Alex Morton. What had been a quick, routine customs event took a menacing turn. Its captain was questioned for six hours, then ordered to stay on board through the weekend until Canada Border Services could hold a hearing. And Alex and the Sea Shepherd were followed by boats with blacked-out windows carrying people with long lens cameras. First Nations made a historic agreement with the B.C. government that gave them the power to say no to fish farms.