Open Letter: UBCIC concerned that Canada and BC are prioritizing fish farm industry over wild salmon
November 9, 2022
Dear Minister Murray and Minister Osborne,
We urge you to take decisive action and remove all open net-pen fish farms from BC waters as soon as possible. Wild salmon are rapidly declining, and the science is clear – open net-pen aquaculture spreads diseases, viruses, and waste, and devastates wild salmon stocks. Instead of delivering on its mandate to transition from open net-pen farms in BC waters by 2025, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has released a fish farm transition plan process that abandons the precautionary principle and disregards First Nations Title and Rights. Instead of pushing the federal government to act, the Province of BC is delaying the urgent transition of all fish farms to land.
First Nations and the BC public have long opposed open net-pen farms due to their environmental devastation and the health consequences for wild aquatic species, including Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), Piscine Reo-Virus (PRV), and Tenacibaculum. Fish farms contain hazardous levels of parasitic sea-lice which are spread wild migratory juvenile salmon and cause unnatural levels of predation targeting vulnerable herring stocks. Containment of hundreds of thousands of fish in open net-pens transfers the economic burden of managing fish waste to the environment and surrounding – often First Nations – communities.
In September 2022, the UBCIC Chiefs-in-Assembly unanimously passed Resolution 2022-42, “Fish Farm Transition Plan,” which builds on decades of calls by the UBCIC and Title and Rights Holders in BC to end open net-pen aquaculture and shift to land based closed-containment facilities, and articulates their opposition to unproven methods, such as semi-closed containment. This resolution responds to DFO’s transition plan, which is comprised of vague, non-committal, industry-friendly objectives, such as an enhanced licensing regime, “progressively minimizing interactions” between farmed and wild salmon, developing a new science metrics and “incentivizing” industry to adopt unproven production technology, such as semi-closed containment, which does not reduce the exposure of wild salmon to diseases.
Considering all this together it appears that the DFO is seeking to obfuscate status quo with scenarios that has caused the utter and complete mistrust of the DFO by First Nations across BC and having “rebuilding” trust of the department as a stated goal of the Fish Farm Transition Plan verifies this broad mistrust.
Recent FOPO Testimony (2022) of Dr Andrew Bateman, PSF, clearly shows the Industry bias of the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS). UBCIC supports this testimony whole heartedly and demand that the Precautionary Principle be enacted immediately. This Legislative tool is available to the DFO Minister and was known at the time of all Fish Farm licenses being issued. The state of Fraser River Salmon stocks require this measure of protection as we await the returns of documented, successive historic low returns.
Fish farms severely impact Aboriginal Title and Rights across BC, as water is contaminated and salmon, shellfish and other marine life are exposed to viruses and diseases. Across BC, First Nations are increasingly unable to meet their food, social and ceremonial (FSC) salmon and other marine life needs, with some Nations having no salmon at all for years. Despite this, DFO continues to authorize recreational and commercial fisheries, which is contrary to R. v. Sparrow,  that established the priority of the Aboriginal right to fish for FSC purposes over recreational or commercial purposes.
The province’s current approach is also troublesome. The BC government’s tenure process only requires fish farm operators to form agreements with the local First Nation(s), ignoring the far-reaching impacts as diseases and waste spread throughout water systems and infect migrating fish. Fish farms not only affect the local First Nation, but infringe on the food security, economic opportunities, and Rights of First Nations across BC.
All First Nations in BC have territories which include either oceans, rivers, streams, or lakes. Salmon bind all our peoples together. The decisions and actions of the federal and provincial governments at this critical moment will impact all First Nations for generations to come. UBCIC calls on BC and Canada to fulfil your commitments, honour First Nations rights, support an economic transition for Nations with fish farms, and remove all fish farms from BC waters as soon as possible.
On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Chief Don Tom
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson
CC: UBCIC Chiefs Council