B.C. NDP government reaches agreement with three First Nations to close fish farms in Broughton Archipelago

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      After years of controversy between Indigenous people and the B.C. government over aquaculture, they've reached a landmark agreement.

      The province and the 'Namgis, Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis, and Mamalilikulla First Nations have forged a path forward in the Broughton Archipelago.

      According to today's announcement, they plan to create a "farm-free migration corridor" for wild salmon in Queen Charlotte Strait off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

      This will result from an "orderly transition" of 17 farms owned Marine Harvest Canada and Cermaq Canada, which includes many being closed.

      "Our governments have come together to help revitalize and protect wild salmon, and provide greater economic certainty for communities and local workers," Premier John Horgan said in a news release. "These are the kinds of gains true reconciliation can deliver.

      "The success of this process shows that when the provincial government and First Nations work together in the spirit of recognition and respect, taking into consideration the concerns of the federal government and industry, we can deliver results in the best interests of all who live and work here."

      Indigenous protests like this one near Alert Bay last year set the stage for the landmark deal reached between the province and three First Nations.
      Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

      As a result of the agreement, four farms will close in 2019. Two are slated for closure the following year, though the decommissioning of one will extend into 2021.

      Then in 2021, another farm is scheduled to close, though it's decommissioning will extend until 2022.

      In 2022 another three farms will close, though decommissioning won't take place until the following year.

      Three other farms could continue operating, "subject to securing First Nations–industry agreements and valid DFO licences", according to the news release.

      Four other tenures "have potential to continue operations" in 2023, pending agreements between the industry and First Nations and proper licensing.

      "Fundamental to achieving the consensus recommendation was the steering committee's recommendation that a First Nations-led monitoring and inspection program be immediately put in place to oversee the operations of the fish farms during the transition of the tenures," the government stated.

      Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park is B.C.'s largest marine park and a popular destination for kayakers.
      B.C. government

      The elected chief of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation, Robert Chamberlin, expressed gratitude that "governments and industry are finally starting to listen and work with us to find solutions that aim to protect and restore wild salmon and other resources".

      "There is much that still must be done, but these recommendations are a significant positive step in a better direction," Chamberlin said.

      The recommendations in a letter of understanding call for implementing new technologies to address environmental risks, including sea lice.

      There's also agreement on the need for "immediate action to enhance wild salmon habitat restoration and rehabilitation in the Broughton".

      The federal government licences fish farms—and the province and the three First Nations say they're committed to working on these issues with Ottawa.

      "These recommendations show that we can implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and find respectful solutions in a timely manner," Chamberlin said. "This process respected the need for Indigenous peoples' consent and allowed us to work together to establish an orderly transition of the finfish farm tenures, while recognizing the needs of other governments, industry and local communities."

      Agriculture Minister Lana Popham played a major role in this agreement coming about by delivering tough talk last year against Marine Harvest when it restocked its Port Elizabeth Farm in Knight Inlet. This occurred without all of its licensing in place for the fish to reach maturity.

      “Whatever operational decisions you should choose to make," Popham declared in a letter to the company last October, "the Province retains all of its rights under the current tenure agreements, including potentially the requirement that you return possession of tenured sites at the end of the current terms."

      Today, Popham praised all the parties for their "openness and ability to come together on common ground".

      "I want to thank Marine Harvest and Cermaq for being open to changing their business model," she said. "It shows that the bottom line isn't the only consideration when making strategic decisions.

      "We all share a common goal," Popham continued. "We are working toward strengthening our wild salmon populations while encouraging a safe, sustainable aquaculture industry within B.C."

      The news about plans to phase out fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago was welcomed by Ecojustice, which represents many environmental groups in court.

      "This past fall, Ecojustice represented independent biologist Alexandra Morton in a lawsuit focused on protecting wild salmon from one such virus," Ecojustice said in a statement. "Piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV, is widespread in fish farms off the B.C. coast, many of which are positioned along wild Pacific salmon migration routes. Recently, research has shown that the virus can also harm Chinook salmon.

      "While today’s announcement from the province gives some cause for hope, Ecojustice remains concerned about the timeline and the fact that the scope is limited to farms in the Broughton Archipelago."

      The B.C. government's actions came eight months after Washington state governor Jay Inslee signed a law banning open-pen fish farms in his state.

      This occurred after up to 250,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a Cooke Aquaculture farm southwest of Bellingham.

      Not long afterward, a Tsartlip First Nation member reported catching an Atlantic salmon in the Saanich Inlet.

      Another Atlantic salmon was caught a little while later in the Harrison River.

      Earlier this year, a poll by Mainstreet Research reported that 74.6 percent of poll respondents in B.C. favoured an immediate ban on open-pen salmon farms. Of those, 48 percent reported being "strongly in favour".

      The poll was commissioned by a group called Wild First.