PORT HARDY—An open house held jointly by Marine Harvest Canada and the Tlatlasikwala First Nation to highlight a joint economic venture drew a big crowd to the Airport Inn last Thursday.
Including the project’s critics.
The Tlatlasikwala have applied to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for licenses for two new Atlantic salmon farms in the waters off Hope Island.
The open house, held in a banquet room of the inn’s sushi restaurant, drew executives, managers and local employees of Marine Harvest, Tlatlasikwala Chief Tom Wallace and several family members, representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other agencies, and a who’s who of environmental biologists and activists, including wild salmon crusader Alexandra Morton, Marine Detective and whale researcher Jackie Hildering and Will Soltau of Living Oceans Society.
There was no open conflict or direct dialogue between the parties. Hildering and Soltau instead stepped outside the room to seek answers from DFO biologists Bernie Taekema of Nanaimo and Todd Johansson of Port Hardy to a range of questions related to the siting of the farms at Ghi Ya (Bull Harbour) and Wanx talis (Heath Bay).
Marine Harvest is listed on the submissions as applicant, but Ian Roberts, communications manager for the farmed salmon producer, said the tenure is in the name of the Tlatlasikwala Nation.
“Marine Harvest supplies the equipment and the fish,” he said. “We have 10 other First Nations partnerships in the province and, like we do in other sites, our plan here is to hire locally.”
That is music to the ears of Chief Wallace, who said he was taken from his home on Hope Island to attend Indian Residential School and whose goal is to re-establish a thriving village there.
The island was home to a Coast Guard base for decades until the land was ceded back to the band in 1990.
“This is one of the things we want to try to have an opportunity to bring our people back and repatriate our homeland,” said Wallace. “In 1996, when I became chief, there were only 12 members left in the band. Now there are 72.”
Morton, who researches potential disease impacts on migrating wild salmon passing through waters containing open net-pen farms, believes the applications will be approved. But she believes the recommendations of the Cohen Commission report on the 2009 Fraser River sockeye collapse have been ignored.
“I applaud the desire to bring the people back to their home,” she said. “But bringing in 12 million Atlantic salmon is tragic.
“I have serious concerns that’s not a safe site for wild fish.”