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B.C. First Nations, commercial fishers and tourism groups urge federal government to phase out salmon farms

A group comprised of First Nations chiefs, leaders in the commercial fishing industry and tourism associations came together Wednesday to encourage the federal government to move ahead with a plan to phase out open-net pen salmon farms on the British Columbia coast by 2025.

For thousands of years, First Nations on the coast and in the Interior have relied on wild salmon to feed their communities -- and since European contact, commercial fishing has been a pillar of B.C.’s economy.

"We're here together in unity speaking about our concern that open-net fish farm operations are a threat to the survival of wild salmon,” said Chief Robert Joseph of the Gwawaenuk First Nation. “And there's no moment more important than this that our voices be heard, that we give expression to why it is that we need to save the wild salmon.”

A group called the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance says it has more than 120 B.C. nations on board with calls to end open-net pen salmon farming – because they believe the farms spread parasites and disease to already distressed wild salmon populations.

“Our people are now relying on Alaskan salmon that we have to buy,” said Chief Arnie Lampreau of the Shackan First Nation. “It’s a crying shame that we have to buy our fish now. I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime.”

In a statement, the BC Salmon Farmers Association disputes the assertion farming operations are responsible for declines in wild salmon stocks.

And it says the industry partners with local First Nations on whose territories it operates.

“The sector respects the rights and title of First Nations to choose whether or not they have salmon farms in their territories,” BCSFA said.

A group called the Coalition of First Nations for Finship Stewardship echoed that sentiment in a statement of its own.

“The time of governments telling First Nations what they can or cannot pursue economically in their territories has passed, and since time immemorial, Nations on this coast have respected the decision-making authority of their neighbouring Nations and trusted that they know what is best for their people,” it said.

In February 2022, former Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced that 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River would not have their licenses renewed.

At the time, Murray said the Discovery Islands area is a key migration route for wild salmon.

The closures are being challenged in court by three fish farm companies and the We Wai Kai and the Wei Wai Kum First Nations.

In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it continues to consult with all stakeholders.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to engage with our partners and stakeholders on the development of a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia by 2025. Consultations are ongoing with First Nations, the Province of B.C., industry, ENGOs, and British Columbians,” the statement said.

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