Homalco First Nation Chief Darren Blaney said that two aquaculture companies’ move to seek a judicial review of the federal decision to phase out 19 Discovery Islands fish farms directly challenges reconciliation and Aboriginal rights of First Nations.
Blaney said that the matter is now about the First Nations’ “inherent right to self government,” and added, “First Nations will have to intervene, since our Aboriginal rights are on the line here.”
On Jan. 18 Mowi Canada West and Cermaq Canada applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the waters off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island by June 30, 2022.
Minister Jordan’s announcement on Dec. 17 was made after a months-long “nation-to-nation” consultation process with seven First Nations that hold title in the area – Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations.
A coalition of Indigenous groups and wild salmon advocates have been calling for fish farms to be removed from B.C. waters, arguing they threaten the health of wild salmon.
The declining numbers of salmon – food fish for the First Nations – also had several cultural implications. Jordan’s decision to phase out the farms was welcomed by First Nations in the area who said that her decision gives salmon “an opportunity to come back.”
However, aquaculture industry stakeholders and local mayors have been at the forefront of voicing dissatisfaction with the federal decision stating that it affects 1,500 jobs and the economy of Vancouver Island.
Cermaq said in a statement Jan. 19 that their judicial review focuses only on the conduct of DFO and the Minister of Fisheries and that the companies respect the opinions and the rights of the First Nations in the Discovery Islands region.
“Cermaq’s goal is to allow time for engagement with the local First Nations to examine opportunities to achieve mutually beneficial agreements,” read the statement.
But Blaney said that these statements coming from the company are “hollow… just words, no action.”
“If they (aquaculture industry) want to reinstate the farms they will have to consult with First Nations going all the way up to the end of the Fraser and every other person who gets impacted on the B.C. coast,” said Blaney and added that the First Nations have begun discussions about this matter with the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN).
He also said that it was disappointing to see “unanimous support” coming from city halls to fish farms.
Calling Minister Jordan’s decision a “bad” one, North Vancouver Island mayors raised concerns about the economic impact it would have in their jurisdictions. Some of the mayors expressed their support for fish farms and in a letter to the fisheries minister told her that they feel “disposable and discarded.”
Blaney said that the reaction coming from them, “shows how little regard people have for First Nations,” and added that it’s “racism.”
“They voted unanimously to overturn this decision saying that it was a ‘mistake’ and so does that mean my culture is a mistake? We passing on our culture to future generations, is that a mistake? That’s what this challenge is. It goes right back to the kind of racism that our people have been treated throughout Canada.”