The Salmon People

Episode 6
September 5th 2022

Skull and Crossbones

Read the transcript

Alexandra: My first contact with Sea Shepherd about this boat was a post by Capt. Paul Watson on Facebook. And he said, “I am sending a ship to help Dr. Alexandra Morton fight fish farms.” And he tagged me in that. So, it appeared on my Facebook page and, well, the blood drained out of me.

Sandra: Environmental organization, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has a controversial history, beginning 40 years ago with its campaign against the baby seal hunt — in particular on Canada’s East Coast. Capt. Paul Watson, raised in New Brunswick, led the campaign against a tradition that he called inhumane.

Paul Watson: Each year, they take about 180,000 newborn harp seal pups. They are clubbed indiscriminately, taken in front of their mothers; only the pelts are taken, the rest of the carcass is left on the ice. And in many cases, because they are in a hurry to get as many seals as possible, they don’t even bother to club the seals and I have actually seen them skin a seal without clubbing it first.

Sandra: Paul and his team would film the hunt — this was before social media — and they sent their film to news organizations. In many ways, their tactics were successful. Although the seal hunt continues to this day, Sea Shepherd’s campaign prompted governments to make it illegal to kill baby seals.

Sandra: At one point, Paul Watson and the ship’s engineer were charged with interfering in a seal hunt in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. Paul was sentenced to 15 months in jail. So, when Alex received the notification that he and Sea Shepherd were sending a ship to B.C. …

Alexandra: I messaged him immediately and asked him to take that post down because I was so worried that this would prohibit any kind of relationship between me and government. And Paul Watson didn't answer me.

Sandra: The seal hunt was just the beginning. The website of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says its mission is to protect the marine environment and end the destruction in the world’s oceans.

Capt. Paul Watson started Sea Shepherd after leaving the environmental organization Greenpeace, which he co-founded in 1971.

Paul Watson: I felt that there was a need to take action, so I set Sea Shepherd up to intervene in illegal activities with a specific strategy which I call “aggressive non-violence.” We are going to aggressively intervene, but we are not going to hurt anybody.

Sandra: Critics call Sea Shepherd’s “direct action” tactics overly aggressive and illegal activism. Sea Shepherd tracked, reported on, and shadowed fishing and whaling ships. It got close to interfere in their activities. It rammed ships and sank more than a few. It spent years fighting the Japanese whalers — and in 2014, the tables were turned.

Anti-whaling activists news story: Anti-whaling activists say this video shows the Japanese whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru, ramming two of their ships. The activists, organized by Sea Shepherd, have spent two days trying to stop the Nisshin from reaching the whaling fleet’s fuel tanker. Sea Shepherd’s founder Paul Watson claimed the SSS Bob Barker and the SSS Steve Irwin have been hit, but both are holding their ground.

Sandra: Carolina Castro was with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for more than 20 years. She describes those early years as filling a policing gap.

Carolina Castro: Way back in time when Capt. Paul Watson was ramming boats and things [it] is important to notice that they were all illegal vessels, they were all pirate fishing vessels or pirate whaling vessels. So, you know it was a way to call attention to that issue.

Sandra: Sea Shepherd’s money comes from ordinary people, corporate donors, and paid lectures by Paul Watson. It has also always had the support of the famous. In return, Sea Shepherd names its ships after its big-name supporters — like game show host Bob Barker, author Farley Mowat, actors Brigitte Bardot and Martin Sheen. The ships are referred to as Neptune’s Navy.

Alex had been offered the research ship the Martin Sheen, named after the actor. But she was already under attack for her work — it didn’t make sense to put a target on her back by getting on a Sea Shepherd ship.

Alexandra: You know, the Sea Shepherd Society, I think, is fabulous. And I think there really are organizations that need to put themselves on the front line. But I didn't see myself as taking that role and I saw my association with them as dangerous.

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. Also, consider giving us a five-star rating and leaving a comment. That helps more people find us. This is Episode 6 — Skull and Crossbones.

Sandra: Sea Shepherd captain Locky Maclean.

Locky Maclean: Yeah, I think Paul was, you know, a big fan of Alexandra's work and he wanted to be able to support her mission, and Sea Shepherd has vessels. These fish farms are out of the way and so a ship was the perfect platform.

Sandra: Alex talked to a few colleagues and friends and thought, “Well, maybe it wouldn’t be so dangerous to take up Paul Watson’s offer.” She realized what a gift it would be to have a big sailing ship taking her around the fish farms all summer. She couldn’t reach all the farms in one summer in her small fishing boat.

Alexandra: And also, I looked into the boat they were offering called the Martin Sheen. A big, beautiful sailboat [that] was also their research branch. We weren’t going to go ram a fish farm. So, the next message back to Paul was, “When can you send the boat?” He said, “We'll be there in July.” Then my thought process switched to, “Somebody is going to give me a ship and a crew and I've got to make really sure that I put this to work and accomplish as much as I can with it.”

Sandra: And the timing was good. She had just discovered yet another disease that seemed to be killing a lot of the wild salmon: piscine reovirus. She wanted to investigate whether the disease was coming from the farms.

Alexandra: And so there were two things I decided I would do. One was an audit of all the farms. So go up to the farms [and] put up a drone so you can really see in. And if they were willing, put down a diver and take a look. You know, see what we could see through the nets.

Sandra: The Martin Sheen was ideal for this work. As a research ship, it had freezers to store fish samples, GoPros to look under the water and drones to fly above it. In July 2016, the Martin Sheen pulled into the dock at Vancouver’s Granville Island, making quite an entrance with its signature black mast with a skull and crossbones.

Alexandra: Sea Shepherd Society wanted to do a media launch and they invited Pamela Anderson, the star from Baywatch, and Dr. David Suzuki. And I invited Chief Willie Moon from the Kingcome [Inlet]. So we have the press conference, lots of people.

Sandra: Actor Pamela Anderson has supported Sea Shepherd for many years and joined the board of directors in 2015.

Pamela Anderson: Because I think even my mother would say, “If I’m buying farmed salmon, aren’t I helping the wild population?” and I think that’s a misconception. So, I wanted to get involved by bringing awareness.

Sandra: Science broadcaster David Suzuki told the crowd research that would be done on the Martin Sheen should have already been done by Fisheries and Oceans.

David Suzuki: Why is it that Alex has to go and do what should be our government’s responsibility?

Alexandra: We were splashed all over the media. People made fun of us because Pamela Anderson was there. Terrible. But we had people's attention.

Sandra: The salmon farming industry was caught off guard. Jeremy Dunn from the industry association told CTV News it was a publicity stunt.

Jeremy Dunn: Our members are very concerned with this campaign. The Sea Shepherd Society has a long reputation. They are certainly not welcome on the private property.

Sandra: The Sea Shepherd Society calls itself a direct action organization, not a protest group. Its focus is to make people, governments and industry accountable for their actions on the world’s oceans. It names all of its campaigns. For example, a campaign to protect Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was called Operation Reef Defence. The campaign in B.C. to support Alex and other scientists who were looking for diseases coming out of fish farms was called Operation Virus Hunter.

Alexandra: I brought my microscope and my sleeping bag and some clothes and binoculars and everything I thought I would need and got on the boat. I think there's about eight people onboard. They were from Argentina, the skipper was from Madagascar, others were from the United States, France, England, a really diverse group.

Sandra: Everyone’s onboard and it’s time to leave Vancouver.

Alexandra: And I turned to the skipper, and I was like, “Oh, where are we going?” And he looked at me. He's like, “That’s what you're going to tell me.” And that's when it really sunk in that I was in charge and so I said, “OK, these are the first two farms … Jervis Inlet, we're going to go there.” And so off we went.

Sandra: Campaign leader Carolina Castro says her job was to keep things running smoothly for the researchers.

Carolina Castro: So, this campaign specifically … was to aid Alexandra Morton in her research, right. So, we had Alexandra Morton and another scientist from the University of Toronto.

Alexandra: Interestingly, the University of Toronto put a researcher on the boat who was doing really important work to gather water around the farms and … then put it through this process of getting out all the extraneous material. So, you end up with what looks like a coffee filter with a stain on it, which is a virus sample or a sample of the pathogens that are in the water and that was amazing. So he was on for two years, and this boat bumped up his research project by years and shaved off a large amount of money.

Sandra: Then it occurred to her — all these farms are in First Nations territory.

Alexandra: And I also contacted the First Nations of the Broughton Archipelago. And I said, “I've been offered this boat. Do you guys want to use it to amplify your message that you don't want these farms here?” That was the plan to do a scientific audit and then to also take it to the nations and let them use it for whatever they wanted to do.

Sandra: The Martin Sheen visited the Namgis Nation in Alert Bay and Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred invited the crew and Alex to their Big House, an invitation that’s a big deal. The Big House is used for spiritual and ceremonial events, like the naming of a baby. And it is where the community gathers to talk about important issues. This is Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred.

Ernest Alfred: We threw a big gathering in our Big House and spoke with the people who were on that ship. The captain of the ship got on the microphone after the presentation and he said, “You know, if anybody would like to come down to the ship, the Martin Sheen, and come down for cookies and tea after, you're invited.” And so, a lot of people went down to the boat and got a tour and whatnot. And we sat there around the big sort of galley table and talked about farms and everything.

Sandra: As the conversation continued, Ernest felt a deep pull.

Ernest: I was hooked, and so I said, “Oh, Alex, I wish I could just come with you.” And she said, “Well, why don't you?” And I looked … at my mom and I looked at my wife, who just said, “Well, you know, you better get packing.” And I had that kind of support. And so I went home and I threw my things in a bag and went down to the Martin Sheen.

Sandra: Alex was happy to have Ernest onboard representing the Namgis Nation. Neither of them knew that his participation would be a pivotal moment in the fight for the wild salmon.

The first week, they sailed up to the Discovery Islands, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Most of the islands are only reachable by boat. They stopped at a fish farm called Venture Point. Alex wanted to get close enough to the farms to gather water samples to see if disease was coming out of the farm. Right away, Alex could see the fish were barely moving along the top of the water, with their backs exposed to the summer sun. Some were clustered around the place where fresh water was being pumped in. Others were lifting their heads out of the water. A crew member sent up a drone to get a better look.

Alexandra: And I tried to get DFO to come out and tell me, “Were these fish dying of piscine reovirus?” Because we knew the history of this farm and it had an outbreak of this virus and the disease that it causes. DFO never came. The fish farmers just went in their houses and didn't come out for three days, and fish were dying and lying on the surface.

Sandra: After the third day, the farm workers came out and started taking the sick fish out of the farm.

Alexandra: And so we did film them in slow motion, pulling these diseased fish out of the major migration route of wild salmon of British Columbia.

Sandra: Along with drones above, the Martin Sheen crew had scuba divers who took video of what was happening below the surface.

Alexandra: The divers had much better cameras. T, the divers could see what they were doing, and they were able to swim the net.

Sandra: The fish farms located in isolated areas weren’t used to having uninvited guests and they weren’t happy — this huge sailing ship sitting near the farm, Alex dipping her net into the water right beside the farms.

Ian Roberts of Marine Harvest says it took a toll on the staff’s mental well-being.

Ian Roberts: Our staff were physically blocked from accessing parts of their workplace. They were subject to unwelcome physical presence and harmful verbal commentary and our salmon were also stressed. We weren’t able to care for them daily due to the constant movement of people.

Sandra: Ian Roberts was director of public affairs at Marine Harvest when Sea Shepherd was moving around the fish farms. He’s now the communications director for [Mowi in] both Canada and Scotland. First Nations occupying a second salmon farm [sent] a strong message to the government.

Ian Roberts: Canada is a democracy where you're allowed to protest. But obviously, things progressed to the point where we were having difficulty conducting our business because it turned into more of an occupation than a peaceful protest. We actually didn’t see much science. All we saw was photographs being taken, blogs being written and then excursions to the sites to walk about our workplace.

Sandra: It was hard for the fish farms to stop First Nations people from coming onto the farms. Employees told them they were trespassing, but didn’t call police — they were on their ancestral lands, after all. Alex definitely couldn’t go onto a farm uninvited. But from a research point of view, just getting close enough to collect water samples at so many fish farms was good enough.

Alexandra: The piscine orthoreovirus was coming out of the majority of the farms. And this was the first time that I was able to put the virus together with the company and with a specific farm because previously, all of my sampling had been done in supermarkets.

Sandra: You heard that right. Supermarkets. Alex had asked the fish farms to give her fish she could test for diseases. The fish farms didn’t think Alex was a biologist or a neutral observer, so they said no. When they said no, she went to grocery stores and bought farmed fish and tested it.

Alexandra: I've seen a lot of fish in these supermarkets that I'm really shocked they're selling. The people in the city don't know what a healthy fish is going to look like. And so, they apparently buy them and eat them.

Sandra: She also went to a sushi restaurant, put her sushi order into a bag of ice and tested the fish later. Both the sushi restaurant salmon and the grocery store salmon tested positive for pathogens and disease. Now — to be clear — finding diseases in fish doesn’t mean the fish are dangerous for human consumption. But it did demonstrate that fish farm salmon are not always healthy when they are harvested and sold.

Sandra: Meanwhile, First Nations were seeing fish farms up close for the first time. Some communities would put people onboard the Martin Sheen for short periods. A community in Kingcome Inlet sent council member Melissa Willie to serve an eviction notice to the fish farms in their neighbourhood. Other First Nations performed cleansing ceremonies on the farms.

Alexandra: They devised this cleansing ceremony and they took cedar branches and dressed in regalia and they walked around the farms trying to cleanse the area symbolically, which was just. It was so unexpected and powerful and beautiful. And on the third one down at Midsummer Island, this one was closer to outside villages and people came. There were many, many boats. And the farm was just full of people.

Sandra: That day, she was asked by the First Nations to come on that fish farm with them. She had never had this opportunity before and she jumped at the chance to get on the farms with an escort.

Alexandra: Well, I was so excited. I actually get to look at the fish straight down rather than with a drone and I took a GoPro camera with me and stuck it in, and — wow. So, there were fish that were, you know, exhibiting the classic behaviour of the impact of piscine orthoreovirus, where they line up at the net with all their noses against the net, desperate for oxygen and are underweight. I had a camera down for about 20 minutes and there it was. I caught it in 20 minutes.

Sandra: It was one thing to have to tolerate First Nations people on the fish farms. It was another to watch Alex Morton putting her GoPro down into the pens. So Marine Harvest went to court and got an injunction that banned Alex from stepping foot on a fish farm again. But she’d already gotten what she needed. What she felt was proof that piscine reovirus and sea lice were in the fish farms. The summer was so successful, that everyone agreed Sea Shepherd should come back in 2017.

The fish farm industry was not happy the ship was coming back. The BC Salmon Farmers

Association issued a news release describing the stress on the workers and the salmon. These are Jeremy Dunn’s words from the news release.

Jeremy Dunn’s words: They regularly dealt with low-flying drones, activists with cameras taking images of their living quarters and frequent breaches of biosecurity protocols that protect fish health.

Sandra: At the time, Jeremy Dunn was the executive director of the BC Fish Farmers Association. He pointed out in the news release that Sea Shepherd Society was foreign.

Jeremy’s words: We’re disappointed that this latest American-funded and organized activist campaign is attempting to paint a misleading picture of an industry that provides a healthy, sustainable product that feeds millions of people.

Sandra: Sea Shepherd was only providing a ship and was not paying for anyone’s research. And another irony was clear: for all of his complaints about American involvement, most of the fish farm industry is owned by Norwegian and Japanese companies. The news release pointed out that the first year, the Virus Hunter research campaign had “failed to publish or indicate any scientific findings at all.” That was true , but not abnormal. It takes one to two or more years to write and publish a paper. Alex found evidence of the disease HSMI [heart and skeletal muscle inflammation] in many of the water samples and was, in fact, preparing a paper.

Meanwhile, she had published a paper with Rick Routledge and other scientists on her grocery store and sushi restaurant sampling. They found evidence of ISAV — a virus that can devastate both farmed and wild fish. It was a different variant. Remember variants from COVID? Well, it was a different variant from what had been seen before in Canada. The BC Salmon Farmers Association attacked that paper and the authors in a news release.

Jeremy’s words: We have concerns about the methodology and the ethics of the researchers involved. None of the results reported in this paper have been confirmed by an outside laboratory.

Sandra: It pointed out that the lab used by the study had been audited in 2012 and found to be cramped and untidy, which the audit said could result in samples being contaminated. When Alex published a second paper on finding another virus, piscine reovirus [PVR], in the supermarket salmon, the BC Salmon Farmers attacked it too. Executive director Jeremy Dunn said in a news release that sampling supermarket fish is poor science.

Jeremy’s words: This paper is part of a deliberate activist campaign led by Alexandra Morton and can hardly be taken as unbiased research.

Sandra: In the news release, Jeremy Dunn does not call Alex a biologist or a scientist — she is an activist.

Jeremy’s words: It clouds the important work being done by highly educated and trained scientists — in labs in Canada and other parts of the world.

Sandra: Partly True. There was much research being done on PRV around the world. In fact, most of the research suggested that fish farms were breeding grounds for the virus. Jeremy Dunn pointed to a study being done by Fisheries and Oceans with the University of British Columbia.

Jeremy’s words: Results of testing on Atlantic salmon show that the presence of the virus has little to no effect on an animal’s fitness.

Sandra: And the press release pointed out that farmed salmon are vaccinated against most potentially harmful viruses before being transferred from the hatchery to the ocean pens.

This fight over science — whose science is more significant or revealing — is not new. This fight is known as the Science of Doubt. It’s a tactic that was created by Big Tobacco in 1969 to push back against the mounting evidence of tobacco’s dangers. And it was successful — it warded off government regulation and kept the debate over tobacco’s dangers alive — for decades. The plan to sow doubt was only revealed when an internal memo became public. It’s a tactic Sean Jones is familiar with.

Sean Jones: I think of that 1969 memo that a tobacco company wrote that said, our product is Doubt. We're selling Doubt. We're selling doubt that cigarettes cause cancer.

Sandra: The “tobacco playbook” as it’s called is still used by big business today to defend dangerous or poisonous products or chemicals. Sean Jones is a B.C. lawyer who practices environmental, Indigenous and regulatory law. He has worked with First Nations fighting to have fish farms removed from the Broughton Archipelago. He worked with Alex Morton on a case against Fisheries and Oceans to force the department to test fish for disease when they are transferred into the ocean pens.

Sandra: He says DFO scientists are trying to create doubt on research done by outside scientists like Alex Morton. Sean says DFO managers try to cast doubt on almost all the science but their preferred science — regularly dismissing international research and sometimes that of their own scientists, like Kristi Miller, whom we heard from in episode 5 at the Cohen inquiry.

Sean: And really what they're doing is … they're fomenting debate and creating doubt so that they can hide behind it and not regulate the industry in an appropriate manner.

Sandra: Sean says this push by industries to promote doubt is why governments adopted the precautionary principle — when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Sean: They would trade on scientific uncertainty and say that they shouldn't have to curtail their activities, or their profit shouldn't be impeded when the harm hadn't been proven. It's also become a legal duty, and that's for governments to anticipate, attack and prevent environmental harm. And that's really the key principle — that the governments aren't supposed to be responding to harm and cleaning it up after the fact or reacting to it. They're intended to anticipate it, attack it and prevent it and to not let uncertainty in science delay that fundamental duty.

Sandra: Sean says two recent cases in 2015 and 2019, both brought by Alex Morton, challenged DFO for its failure to deal with the risk of the disease PRV in fish farms.

Sean: One of the fish companies argued the precautionary principle was only triggered when there was a threat of serious or irreversible harm. The court rejected that, and the court said, rather, that the focus is to exercise more caution when information is uncertain.

Sandra: So, arguments that the science is unclear or weak on whether fish farms are a risk to wild salmon can’t be an excuse for Fisheries and Oceans not to act. And yet despite the two court decisions and an abundance of evidence showing piscine reovirus can cause disease, DFO refuses to screen farm salmon for the virus before they are moved from the hatchery to the ocean pens.

The work that was being done by Alex Morton and scientists on the Sea Shepherd was actually DFO work and the closest thing to actually getting inside the farms and testing the fish.

Word had gotten around about the Sea Shepherd and more First Nations took the opportunity to spend some time on the ship getting a different view of the fish farms in their

territories. But there were some First Nations who had agreements with fish farms and they told Alex the Sea Shepherd was not welcome in their territory. That ban couldn’t apply to another First Nation. So, Alex asked George Quocksister Jr. to come onboard and escort the ship through those First Nations communities. George is a hereditary chief of the Laichwiltach First Nation.

Alexandra: He agreed to come on the boat for our passage through the Discovery Islands.

Sandra: George agreed to join Alex because he didn’t like the fact that fish farms on the ocean — in First Nation territory — were considered private property. In Campbell River where George lives, the Quocksister name is very respected. They are a family of commercial fishermen with business records going back to the 1830s. The family history is part of an exhibit at the Campbell River Museum.

Quocksister is a shortened version of the family name. Government agents said the full last name — Quocksistala Quocksister — was too hard to pronounce and so it was shortened. George’s grandfather, Capt. George Quocksistala Quocksister who died in 1921, was the last to use the full name. George Quocksister Jr. has had a colourful life.

George Quocksister: So that’s what I used to do, skippered boats. I started when I was 18 years old.

Sandra: He skippered big boats from Alaska to California, sometimes taking his kids along.

And for a time, he was a shark pool player and he has the trophies to prove it.

George: Pretty much the best on Vancouver Island.

Sandra: And now a fighter for the wild salmon.

George: Well, the fact of the matter is I’ll always be here putting up a fight to try to stop this dirty industry. I know our people up and down the coastal channels will be doing the same thing.

Sandra: George was looking forward to seeing the fish farms up close.

Alexandra: And so, we nosed the Martin Sheen up to the farm and George gets out on the bow and he calls out to the farmer, “Hey, what are those fish in your pens?” The farmer does not skip a beat and he says, “There's no fish in this pen.” Well, George knew straight up he was lying.

Sandra: So, George got off the ship and took a GoPro camera with him. As he stepped onto the aluminum walkway of the fish farm, he was met by a farm employee.

Farm worker: I gotta say my part. You know it’s private property. And you are not allowed on here, right?

George: Private property in my territorial waters? They haven’t even phoned me or anything to ask to be in my territorial waters. This is Norwegian, from another country. There are seven tonnes of our baby fish in that pen. Seven tonnes of our baby fish, which brings food to our table. What is that fish doing there?

Sandra: The baby fish in the video are herring and they are not supposed to be in the farms. The farms are supposed to prevent that from happening. Ultimately, the fish farm employee doesn’t stop George as he walks from pen to pen, putting his GoPro down into the water, looking at the Atlantic salmon.

George: It’s hard to see this shit. It’s not good.

Worker: I don’t want to make any comment.

George: This is 30 years of this shit, and it hurts.

Sandra: Salmon — both wild and farmed — eat herring, so tons of baby herring is free food for the farm, but fish lost to herring fishermen and to the wild salmon. George wondered, “Was this free food for the fish farms? And so they didn’t work very hard to prevent the small fish from getting into the pens?” In 2012, Marine Harvest was fined for having wild herring in one of its fish farms. When he got back to the Martin Sheen, George had to take a minute before he could tell everyone what he had seen.

George: Whew.

Sandra: He had tears in his eyes, and he just kept shaking his head.

George: There’s tons of the wild stock fish in there.

Sandra: It was his first time on a fish farm. He had never seen anything like it. He wanted to know if this was a one-off or were all the fish farms like this? He decided to answer that question by spending the rest of the summer on the Martin Sheen, putting his GoPro into the pens and questioning fish farm workers.

George: Hereditary Chief George Quocksister Jr. You are in my territorial waters. I am just asking you a question. What kind of fish have you got in this pen here?

Worker: There’s no fish in there.

George: No fish? No baby fish or anything in there?

Sandra: By now, George knows there are always herring in the pens. And there are always sick Atlantic salmon. At every farm in the Discovery Islands, and then the islands of the Broughton Archipelago, George climbed onto the fish farm’s walkway and made his way from pen to pen — sometimes there were six pens, sometimes up to 14 — and he put his GoPro into the water.

It is hard to overstate the significance of what George Quocksister Jr. did. A hereditary chief was gathering video of what was going on below the placid surface of a fish farm. Video that had never been seen before by the people for whom salmon was part of their essence. It was an act that would shift the fight against the fish farms. Late in the summer, it was decided it was time to share the videos with First Nations community members.

Alexandra: I took that footage and edited it down so that the nations that we went to could see what was happening in every single farm that we had gone to.

Sandra: On a hot August day in 2017, a community meeting was called at Kingcome Inlet with Alex Morton as the guest. The village is almost 300 kilometres northwest of Vancouver — even more isolated than Echo Bay, where Alex had lived. To get there by boat was a zig-zagging ride around islands of the Broughton Archipelago. Alex was there to show a video of life under the water at the fish farms. Footage she and George Quocksister Jr. had recorded.

Alexandra: And I recall when I played that up at Kingcome Village, they could only take so much, and they said, “Turn off, turn off.” To them, the suffering of these salmon was part of their lives, was part of their history. Salmon to them were spiritual, they were ancestors. And to see the state, the condition of these fish in the waters of their own territories, they were crying. They were in tears. They were just sickened by it.

Sandra: The next stop was Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from Campbell River on the mainland. Karissa Glendale remembers how she felt when she saw the videos.

Karissa Glendale: I was pretty shocked. I mean, I knew a little bit that the farms were bad, but I didn't know how bad. And, you know, to see that footage and those pictures, it's just like, wow. How? How do they even think that this is OK?

Sandra: Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred from the Namgis was there, too. He’d spent that first summer on the Martin Sheen and had seen some of the early videos. He anticipated the reactions these videos would get.

Ernest Alfred: I think the very first thing was disgust — how appalling those images were — but there was also an incredible sadness that, you know, I think there was a lot of pain. Our community members, who couldn't believe that we've come to this place. We've allowed this, you know, because this is our house. We've got to do something here.

Sandra: People were sad and then they were angry.

Karissa: You know, that's pretty much when I decided that I needed to take action. I knew i f we didn't, [if] we just let this continue and we didn't try to get them out, that I would be telling my nieces and nephews just stories on how we used to work on fish and how it used to taste.

Sandra: Karissa Glendale watched as her uncle Ernest Alfred stood up.

Ernest: You know there was all this talk about doing another protest, doing these eviction notices and all this talk and by then, I was tearing my hair out and it was my turn to speak. So, I got up and I just said, “You know what? I'm going to go out to Swanson Island Fish Farm and I'm going to stay and I'm going to occupy that farm until we hear some serious movement on the issue.”

Karissa: And he got up. He said, I'm going to go and occupy and stay there until … [and then] they started listening … the farms are gone. He said, “Who's coming with me?” You know, the whole community hall just kind of went quiet. And I was sitting in the back and [I said] “OK, I'll go with you. When are we leaving?” He said, first thing in the morning.

Alexandra: And he got up and left. The feeling in the room was electric. Everybody turned to him. Everybody knew, wow, this was the next step. Everybody knew it, but nobody wanted to take it.

Sandra: Next time on The Salmon People podcast: The Occupation.


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.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society offers to send a research ship to B.C. to help Alex Morton with her studies. At first, she rejects the offer as too provocative. Sea Shepherd is a contentious environmental organization. But Alex needs to get close to the salmon farms, so she changes her mind. Alex planned to visit all the fish farms off the east coast of Vancouver Island and collect water samples to test for diseases coming out of the farms. And then she got the idea to ask some First Nations people to join her. That was a game-changer.