EMILEE GILPIN PHOTO David Suzuki speaks at a gathering of BC First Nation leadership on Swanson Island.

UPDATE: Tensions rise in fish farm dispute

David Suzuki and BC Chiefs lend support for Fish Farm protests

Three fish farm protestors were summoned to court for their participation in the occupation of three Marine Harvest fish farms off the coast of Vancouver Island.

Marine Harvest has since postponed the request for injunctions. “The very next morning they left the site and they have not returned so we have suspended the injunction but reserve the right to serve again should they return to the site,” said Ian Roberts, Director of Public Affairs for Marine Harvest Canada.

Ernest Alfred, who has been occupying Swanson Island fish farm since late August said they are maintaining their occupation. “Everyone should know we are not afraid – this is exactly what we want for this to go to the court,” he said, adding “we have nothing to hide.”

The injunctions were served by the company on Monday, just days after a gathering that included renowned Canadian scientist David Suzuki, Chiefs representing a number of BC First Nations, and local supporters near Swanson Island was held to voice support for the occupation.

“I am here to offer my admiration and thanks to people who are occupying the fish farms,” said Suzuki during the Oct. 14 gathering. “This is far more than a battle over the local waters and the wild fish that pass by, this is a battle about a way of seeing our place on the planet,” he continued.

“What you are talking about is a land where your people have lived for thousands of years. Where the rocks, the trees, the water, the fish, are sacred. The battle we have is that the economic system we live within has no place for what is sacred,” continued Suzuki.

The fish farm occupiers and other supporters believe the decline in wild salmon stocks over the years have a direct correlation to fish farming industries established in the area, while Marine Harvest asserts there is no evidence supporting farmed Atlantic salmon harm wild Pacific salmon.

The assembly also included Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and UBCIC vice-president Bob Chamberlin and was in response to both Premier John Horgan’s visit to Alert Bay — where he gave no definitive statements as to the future of net pen fish farming in British Columbia and the restocking of the Port Elizabeth fish farm, a previously empty site.

“It is our fight and it is our right to have wild salmon — it is our birthright nothing short of that,” said Chief Chamberlin. “It is up to us to remain united and to speak with one voice and to understand the struggle and apex that we find ourselves in now because of the occupation has turned the heat up on the government.”

Chamberlain also said he delivered a letter of support from more than 90 First Nations Chiefs to Premier Horgan during his Alert Bay visit, support also shown by others who travelled to the gathering like Chief Charles Nelson of Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola as well as Pauquachin Chief Rebecca David, who read statements of support from the BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee and Green Party MLA Adam Olsen.

RCMP attempt to mitigate situation

Those occupying the fish farms have been vocal of their disappointment with the B.C. RCMP over its presence in the area during the restocking of the Port Elizabeth farm by the Viktoria Viking vessel.

On Saturday, Oct. 14 the RCMP issued a press release stating their impartiality in the dispute, however that did not dissuade protestors from likening the current situation to tactics utilized more than a century ago.

“Believe me when the RCMP showed up it really showed the true colours of Canada,” said Chief Arthur Dick Sr. “When I look at what is going on here in our territory, there is absolutely no difference with the colonization tactics of Canada and British Columbia when they brought smallpox to our people.”

On Oct. 17 Marine Harvest issued a statement on their website claiming a two or three per cent elevated mortality rate on their smolt delivery to the Port Elizabeth fish farm, which they say was delayed 10 hours to “address safety issues concerning activists protesting at the delivery site” and another hour when “protesters tried to block the site of the delivery”.

“We are aware that some protesters witnessed the delivery this morning and may suggest the fish died from disease, but we know this isn’t the case,” said Dougie Hunter, Production Director at Marine Harvest. “The fish delivered were in good shape leaving the hatchery, but unfortunately some looked in poor condition when unloaded this morning. Our staff are very upset that this has occurred.”

The company has asked veterinarians at Fisheries and Oceans Canada to visit the site to obtain samples.

A previous version of this story stated the injunctions were served by the RCMP when notice of injunction was in fact served by Marine Harvest. This story has also been updated to include additional comments from Ian Roberts at Marine Harvest, and Ernest Alfred.

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