Cleansing Ceremony to Rid Territories of Fish Farms

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Aug. 19, 2016

VANCOUVER, CANADA – AUGUST, 2016 – On Thursday, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society assisted the four-tribe First Nations alliance, Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, in boarding a salmon farm in their territory to conduct cleansing ceremonies. This is their first step in getting the fish farms out of their waters.

The cedar ritual occurred just days after three Dzawada’enuxw traditional leaders entered the Cermaq/Mitsubishi salmon farm in the Burdwood Islands where they served an eviction notice to all salmon farms in their territory. 

Thursday’s cleansing ceremony was a follow-up action as part of the process to remove salmon farms from Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw territory. It was performed in the name of their children, future generations and in memory of their ancestors.

Sea Shepherd is currently on location off the coast of British Columbia for Operation Virus Hunter, a campaign investigating the impact of the Canadian salmon farming industry.

The campaign – announced July 18 with the support of numerous First Nations representatives – is being led by Canadian biologist Alexandra Morton. Morton is travelling aboard Sea Shepherd’s R/V Martin Sheen, stopping at various salmon farms to conduct audits for disease and other factors.

The Martin Sheen, along with boats from the communities of Gwayasdums (Gilford Village), U’kwa’nalis (Kingcome Village) and Alert Bay, arrived at the Midsummer Island (Marine Harvest) and Sir Edmund (Cermaq/Mitsubishi) fish farms. The Sheen itself was carrying about 15 First Nations people.

The Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations have stated their opposition to the salmon farming industry for 30 years. Despite opposition this 1/3 of the salmon farming industry is using their territorial waters to raise Atlantic salmon. 

In statement to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the tribes said: “We, the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, view the destruction of wild fish by the fish farming industry as part of the long history of genocide forced on our people by the governments of Canada.  Salmon are essential to our well-being and the well-being of our world.”

According to a report published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, up to forty percent of the young salmon leaving their territory in the spring of 2015 were killed by sea lice from salmon farms.* In 2015, the Federal Court ruled diseased farm salmon should not be transferred into marine fish farms, because it is a violation of the Fisheries Act, but there is no evidence this has stopped.

“The people who are benefitting from these farms are benefitting over the suffering of our people,” said Dzawada’enuxw hereditary leader Farron Soukochoff of the farms’ foreign shareholders. The latter’s actions are robbing First Nation communities of one of their most important food and ceremonial resources.

“I wouldn’t even call these fish; they don’t belong in our waters killing off our wild salmon,” Dzawada’enuxw hereditary leader Joe Willie said of the farm salmon.

“We have heard the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that honouring the rights of First Nations are a ‘sacred obligation’ to the Liberal Government of Canada,” said Hereditary leader and chief councillor Willie Moon. “Our people have spoken we want salmon farms out of our territory.”

Among the First Nations demands from the government are:

  • No more farm fish transferred into Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw territory
  • Access to all fish in the farms to take samples for disease
  • Removal of all farm salmon in Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw territory within three months
  • That the Band Offices be contacted prior to harvest so an observer can be present to inventory the wild fish in the pens.

“After attending numerous meetings and ceremonies with First Nations over the course of this campaign, we have come together, united in our common goal,” said R/V Martin Sheen Captain Francois Martin. “The Martin Sheen is a catalyst providing a platform for First Nations voices to be heard by a global audience.”



The Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw are four nations whose territory encompass the Broughton Archipelago east of Alert Bay. The three communities are Kingcome Village, Gilford Village and Hopetown. They have served two previous eviction notices to the salmon farms in their territory.

The Norwegian and Japanese salmon farming industry operating in their territory consists of Marine Harvest and Cermaq/Mitsubishi. They raise Atlantic salmon.

In 2015 Cermaq/Mitsubishi applied to Deprtament of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for a near tripling of the number of farm salmon allowed in several salmon farms in their territory.   Each tribe rejected these applications. “The DFN [Dzawada’enuxw First Nation] oppose all proposals to expand aquaculture production and the DFN opposes all 2014 replacements of all aquaculture licences that are within their traditional territories and ones that are just outside the traditional boundary of the DFN.” (Letter to DFO September 22, 2014 from Dzawada’enuxw First Nation).

In a document titled “An Overview of Applications for Marine FinFish Aquaculture in Pacific Region” to the DFO Deputy Minister, November 2014 DFO writes: 

“[First Nations] Have indicated opposition to the proposed increases, citing general concerns regarding sea lice, fish health and potential FSC impacts.”

In the DFO Marine FinFish Aquaculture Amendment Application Summary Report and Recommendation March 3, 2014 states that Sir Edmund has been tenured for aquaculture since December 1, 1982. They note disease in this farm.

“Sir Ed is one of the sites that experiences winter ulcer disease… A small cluster of farms including Sir Ed does have a history of winter ulcer infection appearing… This is a bacterium that can remain live in the environment without a host…”

On January 22, 2015 Cermaq wrote to DFO, Regional Director General, Sue Farlinger that, “The lengthy time it is taking to get answers on applications is creating hardships for Cermaq.”

Despite this, the salmon farm in Sir Edmund Bay was approved to nearly triple in size from 1000 tonnes to 3000 tonnes.

On Canada Day, July 1, 2016, the Government of Canada offered the salmon farming industry six-year licences, up from single year licences. Michelle Rainer, a DFO spokeswoman, said Monday the department is extending the licence period “to encourage investment in sustainable aquaculture practices and support longer-term stability for the industry.”

Photo: Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw on the bow of the Martin Sheen. Photo by Sea Shepherd/Simon Ager

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