A group of First Nations who are calling for the removal of fish farms from their territory says they will be occupying a third fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago off the coast of North East Vancouver Island.
The action comes after a vessel called the Viktoria Viking was spotted transporting smolts, which are juvenile salmon, to Marine Harvest’s Port Elizabeth fish farm which had previously been an empty site.
“My relatives moved quickly as they are on route to the Port Elizabeth fish farm,” said Ernest Alfred, who has been occupying Swanson Island fish farm since late August.
A meeting between Premier John Horgan, his accompanying ministers, and 40 hereditary and elected leaders of the Mamalilikala, ‘Namgis, Tlowitsis, Mamtagila, and Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw took place in Alert Bay on Tuesday, Oct. 10, where Horgan made no definitive statements as to the future of fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago.
B.C. NDP politicians, however, campaigned against the net-pen industry and led a committee that recommends B.C.’s North Coast be kept off limits to them.
“They have been given a clear mandate by our people in the big house three days ago to not bring any more fish,” said Alfred.
“This particular license at Port Elizabeth fish farm expires next June, however, these fish will grow to maturity and it will take two years, which is why we have asked them not to put them here,” he added.
Vincent Erenst, Marine Harvest Canada’s (MHC) managing director, stated in an Oct. 13 press release that the company is “very willing and wanting to discuss a long-term solution, but also require the appropriate time to ensure we don’t adversely risk our fish, our employees, and our business investment in an area that has been operating for thirty years.”
Marine Harvest said the lifecycle of a farmed salmon is three years, with the first year beginning at a freshwater hatchery and now their next generation of salmon is prepared to enter marine waters.
“It is not possible for us to cease operations immediately as we deal with a living animal that needs to enter saltwater when ready,” Erenst stated.
The RCMP were also present in the area. “Our role is to maintain peace and ensure the safety of all those involved, and in order to do so we need to physically be in a position to respond should there be a need to respond,” said Cpl. Janelle Shoilhet, Media Relations officer for the RCMP.
“We thought it would be best for the protection of both parties if the RCMP witness the delivery,” said Ian Roberts, Director of Public Affairs for Marine Harvest Canada.
Alfred said he was disappointed with the RCMP involvement. “I got a phone call from the RCMP yesterday and they said they would remain a neutral party.”
He added they “are not planning to interrupt any restocking, we will just continue to monitor and take footage, record, document, and sample the waters.”
At the meeting between Horgan and the First Nations, Horgan was filmed by environmental activist Alexandra Morton stating “if those leases are up in less than two years they shouldn’t be able to restock.”
A group of protestors also occupied provincial NDP offices in Victoria on Oct.13 in opposition to net pen fish farms and in support of the occupations in Northern Vancouver Island.
Port Elizabeth fish farm is located in Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw and Mamalilikulla territory, which Alfred said Marine Harvest has no agreements with them to operate.
“Premier Horgan and the NDP can still cancel this permit,” said Alfred. “This company would then be forced to make alternative plans for these particular fish.”
Roberts noted Marine Harvest has “delayed as long as they can”, and they are “very much wanting to have a dialogue to talk about long-term solutions.”