The Salmon People

Episode 7
September 12th 2022

The Occupation

Read the transcript

Sandra: When you get off the ferry at Alert Bay, the first thing you see is a large carved sign saying, “Namgis First Nation. Welcome” This Namgis village was once a booming fishing town. These days, tourists come here to whale watch, camp and enjoy the simplicity of the coastal life. There are half a dozen small hotels and inns — not a franchise hotel in sight. The houses climb up the hills and up top, there is a panoramic view across Haddington Passage towards Vancouver Island. Ernest Alfred is a hereditary chief of the Namgis First Nation.

He lives in a small house with a big view of the water. When Ernest was a kid, his view of the water was from his parents’ fishing boat.

Ernest Alfred: Sure, I have fond memories growing up in the bay. We were sort of protected because of the island and our safety net, and I realized thinking back that we were really protected, you know, in a good way, that we were free to roam around the forest and go down the street by ourselves without an adult and just be on the beach and explore.

Sandra: When he and his two brothers weren’t exploring the forest, they were on the boat. His mom cooking, his father fishing and teaching them.

Ernest: And so I have really fond memories of fishing and spending a huge part of my life on that boat. And, you know, that was our life. And I wasn't the only one. Our whole community sort of has those similar experiences.

Sandra: He thought he would become a fisherman when he grew up and work with his brothers on the boat.

Ernest: You know it would have been expected that … me or my brothers would have taken on the responsibility and taken over my dad's job as the skipper, and we don’t have our father anymore, and our big, beautiful vessel. Her name was the W11.

Sandra: Then one day in January 1997, the Federal Fisheries Minister Fred Mifflin came to Alert Bay. He came with a promise of money to compensate fishermen like Ernest Alfred’s father who were being pushed out of the fishing industry by what was known as the Mifflin Plan. Under that plan, fishing licences were being bought up by the government. It was all designed to reduce the commercial fishing fleet to protect the wild salmon from overfishing.

Ernest: We were not the only ones. They cleared out the whole village. We, all the fishermen, were displaced. All of the skippers.

Sandra: The number of allowed fishing days had been cut and cut and cut. About 60 salmon boats used to fish out of Alert Bay. That year, 1997, only three went out. Ernest’s father’s boat was not one of them. And in no time, he couldn’t afford the upkeep of his boat. So, he sold the boat and his fishing licence to the federal government. Ernest was just a kid, but he remembers the feeling of despair in the house.

Ernest: Our boat was a family business. My dad was the skipper, but he also employed his uncle, my great uncle and three cousins. And sometimes, my older brother or my older cousin went on as a skiff man or a deckhand. There were always five crew members on that boat, so that was five families that were directly impacted on my dad's vessel alone. My dad's generation, for the first time in their lives, didn't have a job to go to in the summer, you know. And for the first time, families were collecting, going on social assistance. And so, we watched that. And it was a really desperate time… And if I had a billion dollars, what I would do is the last bit of fishermen that we have, get them good-quality, working vessels and start training our young people and getting our young people back on the water.

Sandra: But first, the salmon need to come back. And in 2017, as Ernest got into a fishing boat to travel to the Swanson Island Fish Farm, he believed he was taking the first step to make that happen.

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 the podcast. If you’d like to support us, you can find a link in the show notes telling you how. And it would be great if you could give us a five-star rating and maybe even leave a comment. That helps others find us.

Episode 7: The Occupation

Sandra: When Ernest and his niece Karissa Glendale got in the fishing boat and headed to the fish farm owned by Marine Harvest, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Ernest had never been on one before and really didn’t know much about them. Most people don’t know much about fish farms. In this podcast, we have been hearing a lot about how they are affecting the wild salmon that pass by them. Fish farms have been around since the 1980s and have been controversial for almost as long.

I decided I needed to see a fish farm and Grieg Seafood, one of the big three companies in B.C., offered to show me their hatchery on the west side of Vancouver Island and then take me out to the fish farm called Muchalat North. Rocky Boschman is my host. He is the managing director at Grieg Seafood BC. He has been working in aquaculture since the 1980s. He worked for the competition, Marine Harvest, for more than 10 years and has been with Grieg since 2016. So, he knows this industry.

We met at the company’s Campbell River office and then drove 90 minutes across the island to the hatchery near the village of Gold River. It’s a huge site with half a dozen large buildings. And new buildings going up.

The shoe baths are at the entrance to every building. At the office, we change into safety vests and rubber boots before heading out to the hatchery. We dip our boots into the antiseptic bath before entering. All of this is to protect a precious commodity — the tiny eggs that hatch here, and the tiny smolts they become, and the fish that get big enough to be transferred out into the ocean pens.

Scott Peterson: My name is Scott Peterson, I’m the freshwater production director for Grieg Seafood for B.C.

Sandra: Scott is my guide through the hatchery system that moves fish from warehouse to warehouse as they grow — sort of like a daycare where there are infant, toddler, and preschooler rooms.

Scott: This is our fry dept. One of the things we try to focus on is having really clean water… Fish will get stressed by any change even if it is good water, but a temperature shift is stressful.

Sandra: Scott shows me the technology that keeps the young fish healthy.

Scott: So, when the feed level gets low enough, the sensor calls for demand. We have an automatic filler system that runs feed through the system and loads it up here. In the past, you would have a technician packing a 20-kilo bag down the length of the building.

Sandra: Every stage is high-tech and almost completely automated. I don’t see any workers.

Scott explains that the health of the fish is constantly monitored, in part by regularly grading them.

Scott: So, this here is our fish grader and It will move the fish into four different size categories. Typically, we will grade our fish two or three times before they go to sea, and it helps that the bigger, more aggressive fish are kept in the same group so that the smaller fish are given an opportunity to get better access to feed.

Sandra: This might be a good time to tell you about the amazing salmon. Many people know about salmon jumping waterfalls to get to their spawning grounds, which is pretty impressive. But there is so much more to their awesomeness. This is from an educational video called Life Cycle of the Pacific Salmon.

Life Cycle of the Pacific Salmon: Their long journey starts here in a riverbed, where thousands of tiny eggs have been laid in a gravel nest called a red. They will not leave the protection of the gravel until their yolk is used up, about 12 weeks. Some species immediately head out to sea, while others spend up to two years in freshwater. Eventually, they make their way to an estuary. An estuary is where freshwater and saltwater meet.

Sandra: The fish have been living in freshwater. Now they need to get ready to go into the salty ocean. And they do this with the kind of major physical change that teenagers go through in puberty. It’s called smoltification and it's just the first of the amazing changes that happen in a salmon’s life.

Life Cycle of the Pacific Salmon: Salmon develop a dark back, a light belly and will change to silvery colours, and their gills and kidneys change so they can process saltwater.

Sandra: So, yeah, its gills and kidneys morph, transform to build a tolerance for saltwater.

Being able to live in these two environments is called anadromous. There are about 100 species of fish like this.

Back at the hatchery, Scott Peterson points to one tank where smoltification has begun.

Scott: And you can see if you look closely, some of the fish have already started to smolt. So that fish there, you can see the zebra pattern on it. Those are parr marks. As they transition from parr to smolt, what you’ll be able to see is there is a black edge to the fin, the coddle fin, that’s a sign of smoltification.

Sandra: There are five Pacific salmon species — sockeye, pink, chum, chinook and coho and they spend different periods of time in freshwater before going out to the ocean. For example, pink and chum change to silvery smolts right away and head out to sea. The others spend anywhere from six months to two years in the freshwater.

But the fish farms raise Atlantic salmon. Why? you might ask. Grieg senior manager Rocky Boschman explains.

Rocky Boschman: And there are lots of different answers to that, but one of the answers is just like any farmer who decides what type of sheep or what type of cattle, they all have inherent qualities. One thing about Atlantic salmon, look how docile they are. They deal with stress very well. Very quiet, so they are easy to handle, and stress is really the enemy of every organism, including us.

Sandra: Also, when fish farming began back in the 1980s, it soon became clear that Pacific salmon wouldn’t co-operate with the fish farms. They died in large numbers. So, all the farms switched to Atlantic salmon.

In the wild, after the fish has been in the ocean for two or more years, it heads back to the river where it was born to spawn. How does it know where to go? It remembers the smell of its birthplace. A study found a salmon can detect one drop of water from its home stream mixed in 250 gallons of seawater. Just think about that for a second.

The wild fish head back to the estuary so their bodies can make the adjustment again — from salty water to freshwater. Once they reach the estuary, they have another six to eight weeks of travel before they get to the spawning grounds. And there is no eating as they travel. The strength to travel that journey without eating is one thing, but as they swim, their body is making another amazing transformation. Each salmon species does it slightly differently, but their colour goes from ordinary silver to layers of red, yellow, green or brown. The female costume is not quite as bright, which is pretty standard in the animal world.

But there’s another startling change — their body changes shape. The males develop humps and hooked snouts and long, thin teeth. This helps the male to attract the female and to defend her spawning territory. Go to Google and search for photos; you will be amazed at the change. In fact, if I hadn’t told you, when you see them side by side, you’d think they were different fish.

On a fish farm, most salmon don’t go through this. They are sent to market. But Rocky takes me to a brood hatchery where the best-looking, biggest and healthiest fish are allowed to go through the physical changes that will bring them up to the point of spawning.

Rocky Boschman: So, this is our brood stock facility. So, this is where we bring animals that have already been out in the saltwater farms and we bring them back here to prepare them for their end of life, which is spawning, giving up their reproductive material, their eggs, so we can start the cycle again in the hatchery. So, these are our brood animals.

Sandra: It is very quiet in here compared to the other buildings.

Rocky: They are just waiting. Like in the river, they would be quietly moving up through the system, here we are giving them this quiet building to wait. Fish here will be sampled every single week using ultrasound, so we can actually look in and see how the eggs are developing. Each animal has thousands of eggs in it. So, in this building are the egg requirements for the whole entire company for one year. So, we probably have about 14 million eggs in this building.

Sandra: So now that I’ve seen everything in the hatchery system, we head over to the actual fish farm — outdoors in the ocean. This is where the fish live while growing into their market weight.

Two voices: You'd have to work hard to find a sick fish in this pen.

Rocky: We give them a very good environment with good feed and low stress. And for the most part, our fish live disease-free and healthy until we harvest them out.

Sandra: Rocky says the proof of their health is the premium price they fetch at market.

Rocky: The fish that are harvested out here are in the processing plant within hours. And then those fish are across the border in the United States a few hours later. And so, we do get a premium price for the product.

Sandra: There are half a million fish in these pens — this is industrial farming, similar to the large-scale farming of pigs or chickens. But Rocky says it’s not the same. Despite the numbers, the fish in these pens have plenty of room.

Rocky: They like to jump. Down in the pen, they’re just all moving around. They’ve got lots of room. These pens are 30 metres by 30 metres by about 30 metres deep.

Sandra: As I stand looking out over the pens of Muchalat North fish farm, I know that Rocky and Scott are proud of their work and this farm. It seems clean and well-managed, with cameras under the water keeping an eye on the fish. But back in 2017 as Ernest Alfred and Karissa Glendale headed to a farm owned by another company, Marine Harvest, they had one goal. To make it clear to the fish farm industry that it had to leave the ocean because that would help the wild salmon.

Karissa Glendale had never been to a fish farm until that day. August 24th, 2017, she stepped onto the Marine Harvest property with her uncle Ernest Alfred and a photographer friend who would record the occupation.

Karissa Glendale: We decided to start the occupation, so we had our bags packed, everything we needed.

Ernest Alfred: We had our kind of duffel bags, our sleeping bags, a couple of tents, a bit of food and, yeah, our cameras.

Karissa: The day we first stepped foot on a fish farm was very emotional.

Worker: Afternoon.

Ernest: (Introduces himself and Karissa and the videographer.) I want first off to say that we're here not to get in your way of your business. I know you have things to do here.

Worker: It is an act of trespassing, I do have to let you know that. And that if you want to go through the proper channels to have a tour, we’d be more than happy to set that up if you go through the Marine Harvest main office.

Ernest: We’re here to challenge this claim of authority of some kind that you’ve had here on this site. This is my traditional territory. This is my house. I am here to let you know that you are no longer welcome. We’re here peacefully and we’ll wait. We’ll wait. There are no weapons, your safety is not a concern.

Worker: I am generally concerned for your safety. As this is an operating industrial facility, there’s lots of hazards. And I would just let you know these are tanks of oxygen and they purge. For your own interest, don’t stand near those. Because of pressure and heat, they are designed to purge. I’ll let you carry on.

Ernest: I think the most important thing is to communicate to your supervisors, maybe at a high level, to say we are here and we are not leaving now. OK. Are you Eric?

Eric: Yes.

Ernest: I’m Ernest Alfred. I think we should be friendly to each other because we are going to be seeing a lot of each other.

Sandra: After setting up their tent camp on the fish farm walkway, they put GoPro cameras down into the water and what they saw shocked them.

Ernest: if you were to pull up to a salmon farm, everything looks fine. You see the ocean and you see the pens and all of this huge structure and the fish are jumping and such. But you really don't see anything at all until you look under the surface, and therein lies the problem.

Karissa: I can still picture in my head how nasty these fish looked. Some of them were like a mustard yellow, kind of like a Chloe mustard yellow, and then others would have like huge tumors and tons of skin missing and some wouldn't have a bottom jaw. And, yeah, these are just some of the images that I haven't been able to get out of my head.

Sandra: After the first night, Ernest and Karissa were greeted in the morning by a Marine Harvest manager. It’s still very friendly.

Worker: How are you? How did you sleep?

Ernest: It’s a bit uncomfortable .

Sandra: Ernest posts on Facebook.

Ernest: We are at Swanson Island, not too far from Alert Bay. The first night

was a bit uncomfortable … the noise and the fish jumping. Sometimes they splash. I’m prepared to stay here a lot more uncomfortable nights to make a stand, make a statement, about how committed our people now are to the removal of the fish farms.

Sandra: Later in the morning, a dozen hereditary chiefs and Elders drop by to show that Ernest and Karissa are not acting alone and have the support of many First Nations. Karissa and Ernest were joined by Molina Dawson on the third day and, over time, other young people came to stay for various periods. This is Molina explaining why she came.

Molina Dawson: I thought it was important to join the occupation, me being able to be at an age where I could drop everything and go do this. I also thought the salmon are so important to our culture, protecting them and doing this could be an important step.

Sandra: Molina left this farm about 10 days later to join an occupation at another Marine Harvest fish farm, called Midsummer Island. Two other fish farms were also occupied for a short time. The fish farm was chosen because it was in cellphone range. Almost every day, Ernest posted a video to social media.

Ernest: The Swanson Island occupation here. You see? Oh, that doesn't look good. There's a fish there. If you look … he's badly scarred. He's missing an eye. A lot of his friends don't look very good, either. They're lining up against the net, which is very problematic; a sign of infection and disease.

Sandra: It was only Day 4, but the fish farm industry called the videos Ernest was posting cherry picking — looking for weak fish and ignoring all the healthy fish in the pens. The BC Salmon Farmers Association complained that the video was a selective view of the fish farm. Rocky Boschman of Grieg Seafood told me that, too, when he gave me a tour of the Muchalat North fish farm.

Rocky Boschman: But if I was to say, "Well, I need it, I need a picture. I want to get a picture of a sick fish. Where would I do that?" Well, I would come down here. I would take my GoPro and I would put it down in the corner of this pen and I would just wait.

Sandra: Rocky explains that in a pen with 50,000 fish, there are bound to be a few sick ones.

Rocky: Without a doubt, within maybe 20 minutes or 15 minutes, I'll be able to get a picture of it. But that one picture can live forever on the internet. That picture can be used over and over again on Facebook posts, on web posts, which does not really tell the story that we are really looking at in this pen 50,000 very healthy, vigorous fish swimming around.

Sandra: On the Swanson Island fish farm, it wasn’t easy living on an aluminum sidewalk in between large rectangular fish pens.

Ernest: It was cold. It was very uncomfortable. And keep in mind, it's an active, active fish farm. So, there was machinery running all the time. But also, there was the smell. You know, it was not a nice place to be.

Karissa: Yeah, it was just constant gross. The smell, especially like when it would be time for them to feed the fish. It was just automated, so they had like this thing in the centre of each pen. That would start and would just start spinning and it would shoot out the food. The pellets that they fed them also were pretty stinky, so it was just like a constant, nasty smell all the time. I know the first week of the occupation, we didn't really eat a whole lot because it was just so nasty.

Alex and the mothers of these young women brought food and blankets and checked on them.

Morton: In the first few weeks the Sea Shepherd was there. I would putter over to the farm every morning and bring and Ernest, Molina and Karissa coffee. I couldn't tie directly to the farm, I couldn't touch the farm, but I could raft to boats that were that were tied to the farm. I brought them firewood. I did a go fund me so that the people on the farms had winter boots and cell phones.

The fish farms were chosen because they were in cell phone range. Everything that happened at the occupation was documented and posted on Facebook and Twitter. Alex was a mother hen who hovered nearby.

Morton: You know, just yeah, that part of it for me was incredibly stressful. These women, many of them were the same age as my daughter, actually. They'd gone to school with my daughter. I knew them. And so, yeah, my role was really to to watch over them.

Sandra: As the days turned into weeks and then into months, Karissa Glendale had a lot of time to think while she sat on folding chairs on the aluminum walkways, listening to the salmon jump and the feeding arm move in a circle as it spewed out feed pellets. The sounds reminded her of what had been lost, and brought back childhood memories of the way it used to be. That story, and every story along the B.C. coast, begins with salmon. Karissa remembers going fishing with her grandparents for a few days at a time. And when they returned, everyone in the family helped jar the salmon.

Karissa: That's when we will have Mason jars. And will cut up the fish to fit inside of the jars, will close them up.

Sandra: Then the jars were put in hot water so the fish would cook.

Karissa: And we'll make sure they're all sealed properly and then put them in our cabinets and we'll have fish for quite a few years, depending on how much we have. I can make sandwiches and stuff like that … you used to be able to just take a jar of fish [to] school and really just eat it right out of the jar. That's what a lot of our kids used to be able to do, anyway.

Sandra: But then over time, there were fewer and fewer fish to catch. Karissa’s family stopped jarring fish because they never caught enough. The fish they managed to catch were eaten for dinner today or tomorrow.

Karissa: We don't have as much as we used to anymore, and so when we do have it, you know, it's pretty much a rare occasion now.

Sandra: The loss of the fish meant the loss of fishing jobs. And not enough salmon to catch meant having to buy food at the grocery store. Hard to do without a job. Suddenly, the schools had to begin breakfast and lunch programs.

Karissa: My life definitely would be different if we still had as much fish as we used to back in the day, you know. All the bears, all the orcas, the eagles — everything — would be thriving because it's all one cycle. Like, everything's connected.

Sandra: Instead of fishing, Karissa studied eco-tourism, and after doing an internship at Seawolf Adventures, she was hired. Now she is learning to handle one of the big boats. This Indigenous-owned company takes tourists whale watching, on Indigenous culture tours and even visits to grizzly bear areas.

Karissa: It's pretty amazing and I definitely enjoy it. It's hard to call it work, but we go out to the Broughton. And one of the spots we go to is actually in my traditional territory, where my family originated from, getting back to my roots and, you know, connecting to the land and … learning more. And to be able to share that experience with our guests, it's pretty cool.

Sandra: Meanwhile, 300 kilometres south in Victoria, the Martin Sheen had arrived for its third year supporting Alex Morton’s research.

Locky Maclean: It was interesting. The boat arrived and it was a Saturday … around 7 p.m. local time when Canadian customs officers boarded the Martin Sheen in Victoria Harbour downtown. And something very strange happened, which is that the captain and crew basically were detained on board and they were questioned for five straight hours.

Sandra: That was Sea Shepherd campaign co=ordinator Locky Maclean. Locky says what had been a fast, simple procedure in previous years took a menacing turn.

Locky: You know, I've sailed vessels in and out of Canada from the states many times, and usually you pick up a little box on the end of the dock, you call Canada Customs, there's an officer in Moncton or somewhere that picks up, you give the boat's details and they just want to know the passport numbers for whoever is on board. And then you're done. So, it's usually a very straightforward, short procedure, nothing more than a formality, which might last 20 minutes.

Sandra: The Martin Sheen is not a commercial ship; it doesn’t transport cargo. It is classified as a private yacht. The Martin Sheen skipper had been hired in Hawaii to deliver the ship to Canada. He wasn’t a Sea Shepherd member and knew nothing about what the ship would be doing in Canada. So, he couldn’t answer many of the customs officers’ questions.

Locky: We were chatting on WhatsApp and I advised him to basically just have the officers, you know, look on social media because all of the information about the ship's past seasons in B.C. could be found on the ship's Facebook page … We had nothing to hide.

Sandra: But that just made the customs officers more persistent.

Locky: The officers continued to state that they didn't believe his story, and then they switched gears and they started wanting to know if Alexandra Morton would be boarding the vessel and when. And of course, the skipper on board didn't know that information because I hadn't shared it with him.

Sandra: Asking if Alex was going to be on board was more than just an odd question. It suggested the custom officers had been briefed about the Martin Sheen’s activities in 2016 and 2017. That became more obvious as the questioning continued.

Locky: And then a really strange question came up where he was asked why Sea Shepherd would be doing research when the Canadian DFO already does plenty of research on salmon farms.

Sandra: Clearly, the customs officers knew a lot about what the ship had been doing in the past few years. More than the poor delivery skipper knew.

Locky: And so again, you know, he was at a loss for words. The American skipper had no knowledge of the B.C. coast and the campaign or salmon or anything.

Sandra: The crew was able to go into Victoria, but the skipper was not allowed to leave the ship all weekend — until a hearing on Monday morning at the customs office in Victoria. Things also took a turn at the occupation.

Sandra: One day when Karissa and another woman were on their own at the Swanson Island fish farm, a boat pulled up and two burly men working for Marine Harvest got out. Two other men stayed inside the boat. Karissa went down the gangplank and met them at the bottom.

Karissa: And the workers were actually looking for Ernest and they thought that I was hiding him. So, they were trying to go up the ramp from the dock to get out to the cabins to go look for him.

Man: How are you doin? We’ve come to see Ernest. We already set up an appointment.

Sandra: By this time, the occupiers had stopped sleeping on the walkways and had a cabin on land near the fish farm office. One of their men was videotaping; one of the occupiers was also videotaping. The two men are aggressive right away.

Worker: Excuse me, don’t touch me. Move. Move.

Karissa: No.

Worker: Move.

He rips open his jacket and pulls out a card.

Guard: I am a licensed security guard and you need to move — NOW.

Karissa: You’re not a security guard of this place here.

Guard: Yes, I am.

Karissa: You’re not

Sandra: One of the men is trying to move around Karissa without touching her. Karissa is standing with each arm on the gangplank railing, her feet anchored on the step. A second man tries another tactic.

Second man: I think this would be better if we just have him come down. And then we’ll be gone.

Karissa: No. I told you guys he’s not here. You guys can leave. He’s not here. No, he isn’t and you don’t have permission to go up.

Sandra: And then suddenly, each man puts up his arm and tries to break Karissa’s hold on the railing. Karissa pushes back. Unless they want to get rough or violent, they can’t budge her. Karissa appears calm but her face is set.

Karissa: You guys need to leave now. He’s not here.

Worker: You can contact him and tell him to come down or we’re going up.

Karissa: He’s not here.

Second man: Can we go up and see?

Karissa: No.

Second man: Then how do we know he’s not here?

Sandra: The men suggest they will stay all night.

Karissa: You just tried to push me around.

Male voice: Because you are hiding …

Karissa: Two men tried to push a woman around.

Sandra: The men clearly don’t know what to do. They have an assignment they can’t carry out. One of the men says his family is ninth-generation Canadian, grandfather came here in the 1800s. Karissa shoots back that her family has been here much longer — thousands and thousands of years.

Finally, Karissa says: If you have to know, Ernest had to take his mom for eye surgery. They ask if he is coming back. Karissa says she doesn’t know. One of the men’s two-way radio squawks.

Woman: Hey, Dave, are you happy?

Sandra: He gives the other man a nod of the head and they walk back to their boat looking rather unhappy. Karissa only found out later what the men wanted.

Karissa: This is when they were trying to serve us court papers for the injunction. I phoned Ernest and told him what happened and he was furious, so he ended up getting on the phone and calling them and being like: What the hell? Why did you guys do that? I'm not even there. If you want to serve me papers now, you can come to Alert Bay.

Sandra: This confrontation happened after 190 days of occupying the fish farm — 190 days of being away from the comforts of home, friends, and family. It was a hard day.

Karissa: What kept me going was my nieces and nephews. They were my strength through the whole thing. I was fighting for them, for their future. And I just kept remembering that I'd rather me have to go through it than have them have to go through the same thing.

Sandra: But now Marine Harvest had run out of patience with the occupation and they were going to court to ask for an injunction to get the occupiers off the Swanson Island farm. They had been successful in getting an injunction against the occupiers of three other fish farms in December of 2017. Ernest was served with court papers and almost immediately put up a video demanding the fish farms leave.

Ernest: Swanson occupation. Today's date is April the 6th, 2018 … you cannot run a railroad over the First Nations people who call this place home any longer.

Sandra: And he went after industry for its relentless criticism of the science.

Ernest: You know, that scientific debate is over also because there's a human rights aspect that everyone is forgetting about. It's our people who have a say in our territory. It's our people who have said no consent, no agreement, get out.

Sandra: And he took another shot at Fisheries and Oceans.

Ernest: Shame on the DFO. I think that the pressure needs to be on the federal government to get out of bed with this industry. Shame on the DFO for letting the fox look after the hens.

Sandra: Marine Harvest got its injunction in May of 2018 and Ernest, Karissa and the others decided to obey it. They had been on the Swanson Lake farm for 280 days. In that time, they had received visits from First Nations, environmentalists like David Suzuki, and politicians. They’d received media attention around the world. It was time to move the fight elsewhere.

Sandra: It turned out there were others intently interested in the movements of the Martin Sheen.

Alexandra Morton: There were about five guys on it and they were running alongside us with long lenses, taking photographs of everything, I guess. You know, it must have been like taking photographs right up our noses because they were so close with these long lenses. 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: Next time on The Salmon People — Intimidation.


Sandra: 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.

And it would be great if you could give us a five-star rating and maybe even leave a comment. That helps others find us.

Alex and Hereditary Chief George Quocksister Jr. used GoPro cameras and divers to record what was happening underneath the fish farms. When the footage was shown to First Nations communities, there was shock and sadness, then anger. Fish with holes in their bodies, chunks missing from their faces, barely moving and close to death. A group of young First Nations people felt the pull to defend the wild salmon and they occupied one fish farm, then two, then three. They stayed 270 days before Marine Harvest got an injunction to force them to leave.