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Kervin’s Corner: Sustainability in our community’s strongest industry possible?

“First Nations in the surrounding areas are in their full right to protest fish farms.”

Many of our southern neighbours are protesting fish farms. Recently, this movement has slowly trickled into our local communities – namely in the Alert Bay area where there are a few fish farms in the Queen Charlotte Strait and Broughton Archipelago. These fish farms are mostly owned by a private company, Marine Harvest.

Some farms are part of successful Indigenous entrepreneur and commercial fisherman James Walkus’ own business, but those are located to the north in Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation’s traditional territory. Walkus is on record in support of fish farms, saying “it keeps us busy during the winter and employs a lot of people in Port Hardy, where I live”, in an October 20, 2014 news report by The Province’s Frank Luba.

According to a 2009 Department of Fisheries report, our country’s “farmed-salmon industry provides more than 10,000 jobs alone, the majority of which are in coastal areas of British Columbia”. In fact, it goes on to say that in 2013 “British Columbia accounted for about 49 per cent of total production volume” in our country.

Without doubt, First Nations in the surrounding areas are in their full right to protest fish farms. In fact many of these fish farms are located on traditional, unceded land of the ‘Namgis First Nation where current protests are taking place. A lot of these companies do have licenses to own and operate those farms, but the issue at hand is whether or not the Horgan administration will approve restocking of fish farms when Marine Harvest’s license expires. Also, the main reason protests are happening now is because of provincial tenures. If approved again in Summer 2018, it would allow Marine Harvest to continue to operate in ‘Namgis traditional territory.

So is sustainability possible for aquaculture? Right now protestors believe it’s not, especially with what they believe to be unregulated aquaculture practices. It’s already known aquaculture is a nascent industry, just barely in its infancy. Sure there may be some issues, but that’s simply because we haven’t gone through the trial-and-error process that so many other industries already have down pat.

For example, instead of approving a business fish farm license on a case-by-base basis and only thinking of that single fish farm’s impact on the environment, we could look to the area as a whole. We can reduce environmental impacts if we plan out the zoning for each farm with even more detail. This would prevent fish farms from concentrating in one area.

And instead of actively regulating the industry, there are alternative solutions. Local and provincial government could possibly shift incentive toward sustainability. For example, this could include free training for employees to instil ideas of what safe, sustainable practices in aquaculture look like. Or perhaps a tax deduction on wastewater treatment might incentivize companies to take the cleaner route. Whether any such cleaning systems exist is yet to be seen, as well as if it is even possible for government grants to fund a research project to create such systems.

These are some ways the industry could move toward a more cleaner, sustainable approach. It would be reckless for government to abruptly put a stop to the industry rather than taking steps to incentivize sustainable practice.

Vancouver Island North MLA Claire Trevena took an open stance of moving the fish farms from open channels to closed containment on land during her 2017 BC election campaign. Premier John Horgan accompanied by MLA Claire Trevena and MP Rachel Blaney attended a meeting in Alert Bay to discuss fish farms with First Nations.

Protesting fish farms is nothing new – many protested back in the early 2000s when fish farms became more commonplace. It will be interesting to watch the events as they unfold and to observe exactly what will come about from these protests. And ideally, the jobs that were created — all 14,000 of them in Canada with the majority of them in BC — aren’t going to be lost to rash decisions.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

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