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Fish farm decision disregards First Nations input: Wei Wai Kum Chief

Federal government cancelled licences in Discovery Islands area in February

The Lach-Kwil-Tach First Nations are speaking out with regards to the announcement that Fisheries minister Joyce Murray has cancelled the farming licences for their territory, also known as the Discovery Islands, in February.

In an interview with the Mirror, Wei Wai Kum elected Chief Chris Roberts explains that the decision was done hastily, with no regard for the proposal the Lach-Kwil-Tach nations presented the minister.

READ MORE: B.C. salmon farm closure decision was necessary, says DFO amid court challenges

“It sort of shows the true position of the government,” said Roberts, who with the Coalition of First Nations for FinFish Stewardship, visited Ottawa from March 7-9 in order to lobby their position. “On one hand, they say they support First Nations right to make their own decisions, and want to uphold the United Nations declaration of rights for Indigenous Peoples. But, what they have done is something that aligns with their political platforms and ideologies.”

The statement, dated March 28, says that the court challenge is “not about whether we support fish farming or not - it is about our inherent right as title holders to decide how our territory is used and determine for ourselves if, when and how fish farms could operate in the future.”

Roberts says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)’s decision was based on science that was inconclusive. He points out the proposal the Lach-Kwil-Tach Nations presented had a more balanced approach.

“Of the seven sites we identified, we were going to start out with one,” said Roberts. “I believe it was Brent Island and working with Cermaq first. Both (the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum) nations would have heavy involvement with our guardians. There was an agreement for a more stringent threshold for sea lice levels. We also had an agreement on the reduction time when they could be over in that season. It was never a proposal that said ‘Please allow these seven sites to continue because we’re comfortable with how that goes.’”

The statement by the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish stewardship goes on to say that the decision by Murray has set a “dangerous precedent for future decision making when it comes to marine resource management in our territories.”

Roberts says that the economic impacts of the decision made by DFO could impact the long-term future of First Nations.

“I’m worried is this going to limit other types of certain developmental potential,” Roberts says. “We’re interested in kelp, we’re interested in other types of shellfish. There’s tons of marine related activity. So is this going to be this high standard that our territory is going to be managed for some reason. It’s never really been scientifically proven, why our territory is such a critical one for Fraser sockeye, but that’s the excuse we’re getting. That’s really concerning for us.”

Edward Hitchins

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