Alexandra Morton: B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham is right about fish farms

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      B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham should be applauded for her brave response to the ‘Namgis, Mamalilikulla, and Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations' efforts to get salmon farms out of the Broughton Archipelago. This struggle has been ongoing for these First Nations for 30 years.

      Popham is the first politician to stand up for their rights, enshrined in the Canadian Constitution, against Norwegian-run salmon farms. Remarkable.

      With the collapse of food fisheries, the problem with salmon farms has grown beyond biological chaos to also become a human-rights issue. Reconciliation cannot happen between cultures when one is destroying the food resources of the other.

      Popham directed very powerful words at Marine Harvest when they breached the First Nations’ directive that all farm fish must be removed from their territories. Marine Harvest restocked their Port Elizabeth farm in Knight Inlet with fish that cannot be grown to maturity under the current "licence of occupation" that they have with the B.C. government. That tenure will expire in June 2018, one year before the fish are ready to harvest.

      “Whatever operational decisions you [Marine Harvest] should choose to make, 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,” the Honourable Lana Popham wrote to Vincent Erenst, managing director of Marine Harvest, on October 13.

      In 2016, I won a lawsuit that revealed that the Marine Harvest’s Dalrymple Hatchery is infected with piscine reovirus (PRV), a highly contagious Norwegian salmon blood virus. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) was directed to test farm salmon for this virus before issuing transfer permits into ocean pens; however, FOC refuses to do this. And so we are back in court.

      Marine Harvest provided the court with information that most of their hatcheries are infected with PRV and stated that they would be “severely” impacted if they can’t grow PRV-infected fish in B.C. waters. What about people who don’t want to eat salmon infected with a salmon heart virus, and people who rely on salmon who now have no food fish? What about the much larger wild-salmon economy? What about future generations?

      Scientists in the Ministry of Agriculture decided with industry that piscine reovirus is harmless. This flawed decision allowed millions of infected farm salmon to pour into farms on B.C.’s wild-salmon migration routes during the past 10 years. Now the virus is spreading. The Ministry of Agriculture knew the virus was causing heart disease and did not release this evidence. Why?

      As I photographed the transfer of Atlantic salmon smolts from Marine Harvest’s Dalrymple Hatchery last week, thousands were dying. Many rolled over to reveal hemorrhages on their bellies and at the base of their fins. Marine Harvest poured these dead and dying farm salmon into Musgamagw Territory as we stood on the farm in peaceful, powerful opposition. 

      No government worldwide has stood ground against the salmon-farming industry, even in the face of unmistakable devastating impact on wild salmon.

      Marine Harvest gambled and transferred 1.7 million potentially PRV-infected farm salmon into a farm where the tenure is going to expire one year before the fish will be harvested and you responded as a government should. Popham warned them not to make this assumption.

      Popham is clearly under enormous pressure and yet her words have given many of us hope that wild salmon will be allowed to exist in B.C. and that the relationship between B.C. and First Nations can heal and become an example to the world of how humans should behave.

      The wild-salmon economy remains more than twice the size of the salmon-farming industry. There is no reason the salmon-farming industry should be allowed to fill B.C. waters with diseased fish.

      I stand with Minister Popham.

      Alexandra Morton/Gwayum’dzi is an independent biologist living and researching in Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw/'Namgis territory.