Sometimes in politics you have to demonstrate people power, to show government that there is public support to take action. With all salmon farm licences in British Columbia expiring on June 30, now is just such a time — and to this end, a wild salmon flotilla was hosted in Tofino recently.
We were sweating bullets, watching the weather forecast for May 7. Finally the big day arrived – westerly winds gusting 40+ kilometres per hour. Not ideal for boating…
A series of art builds had been building energy for weeks. Community members created a huge floating banner, over sixty feet long with bright orange letters seven feet high. The message could not be more clear: FISH FARMS OUT!
Anchoring the banner was a mighty feat. Boats began to arrive. An intrepid pod of kayaks crossed the bay to join in, and even three paddleboarders – to a chorus of cheers. The fleet began circling the banner, while I scanned the horizon, anxiously awaiting the helicopter carrying our photographer.
It was powerful to be taking action with so many others, especially after two years of restrictions. It was too windy for speeches on the water, so flotilla co-host Chris Seitcher of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation suggested we circle up in town.
What unfolded next was incredible. Terry Dorward of Tla-o-qui-aht emceed the gathering. Visiting chiefs were welcomed and honoured with an exchange of gifts. Speaker after speaker shared concerns about the impacts salmon farming is having on wild salmon.
Dorward spoke of the many years of action taken by members of Tla-o-qui-aht, from joining Alexandra Morton’s Paddle for Wild Salmon back in 2010, to boarding Creative Salmon’s farms with GoPro cameras in 2019 to capture the first-ever images of juvenile wild salmon trapped inside a fish farm.
“We came here to lend our voice of optimism … When we say we want the fish farms out, we’re saying it together.”
—Ernest Alfred, Tlowitsis Nation
Tsahaukuse (George Quocksister Jr), a Hereditary Chief of the Laichwiltach Nation spoke. George teamed up with Sea Shepherd in 2017 to board forty fish farms north of Campbell River, and capture underwater footage of disfigured farmed fish and trapped wild herring. Those images sparked an uprising.
Ernest Alfred, hereditary chief of the Tlowitsis First Nation, occupied the Swanson Island salmon farm for most of a year in 2017-18. Shortly thereafter, the BC government signed an agreement with First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago to allow closure of salmon farms. Ernest came with a message of hope: “We came here to lend our voice of optimism … When we say we want the fish farms out, we’re saying it together.”
Charles Billy came all the way from the St’át’imc Nation near Lillooet. His message: First Nations all the way up the Fraser River are opposed to open-net pen salmon farming on the coast. They are watching the wild salmon that sustained their nations for millennia dwindle towards extinction.
Open-net pen salmon farming is a transboundary challenge. What happens in one territory can cross borders into another territory. This is why Indigenous chiefs and leaders from across the coast came together to send a clear message to Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray: do not renew in ’22!
Dan Lewis is executive director of Clayoquot Action. For more info: www.clayoquotaction.org
No farms, few lice
At the end of May, Watershed Watch Salmon Society team members visited the sites of former fish farms in the Discovery Islands. There, researchers reported that after years of infestation, and the beginning of closures in 2020, this year the young juvenile wild salmon (smolts) carried almost no sea lice. Watershed Watch is urging salmon fans to contact Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray with this exciting news, and encourage her to not renew the remaining salmon farm licences, which come due on June 30: The Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister’s office, 200 Kent St, Station 15N100, Ottawa ON K1A 0E6 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org