Mowi suspends fish farm construction near Campbell River amid protests

Protesters attend a rally against the Cyrus Rocks fish farm in Okisollo Channel, northeast of Quadra Island, on May 28, 2019. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror
A protester in a small boat passes the Cyrus Rocks fish farm site in Okisollo Channel, northeast of Quadra Island, on May 28, 2019. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror
Protesters rally against the Cyrus Rocks fish farm in Okisollo Channel, northeast of Quadra Island, on May 28, 2019. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror
Maurelle Island resident Brian Bloomfield said he opposes open-net fish farming in B.C. coastal waters. Bloomfield was part of a rally against the Cyrus Rocks fish farm in Okisollo Channel, northeast of Quadra Island, on May 28, 2019. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror
A motorboat of people taking part in a ‘protest flotilla’ against the Cyrus Rocks fish farm in Okisollo Channel, northeast of Quadra Island, on May 28, 2019. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Aquaculture company Mowi announced on Tuesday that it’s suspending the construction of a fish farm near Campbell River until it reaches an agreement with Homalco First Nation, which has raised concerns about the effects of the facility on ancient clam gardens.

The decision came just after a flotilla of protesters staged a demonstration at sea on Tuesday. Several dozen activists in at least 15 boats attended the protest at Cyrus Rocks in the Okisollo Channel, northeast of Quadra Island.

The Mirror travelled to the site with documentary filmmakers Eiko Jones and Kim Isles and spoke to protesters who want fish farms removed from coastal waters.

“There’s no reason to have open-net farming on this coast,” said Brian Bloomfield, who lives on Maurelle Island, directly across the channel from the site. He said he doesn’t begrudge people who work in the industry, but that aquaculture facilities should be on land.

Protesters said Cyrus Rocks site is a poor choice for open-net pens because of its proximity to various outdoor adventure businesses, several marine parks and a rockfish conservation area.

“All these thousands of Atlantic salmon … are in an open-net pen in the water in which are supposed to be recuperating stocks of rockfish,” said Claudia Lake, a Maurelle Island resident who was among the organizers of the protest.

Activists on the flotilla cited longstanding concerns that open-net pen aquaculture poses a variety of dangers to wild salmon populations, notably the spread of sea lice.

“It’s going to be close to zero, if not zero sockeye coming home,” said George Quocksister Jr., a Laichwiltach hereditary chief. “It’s because of those farmed fish pens.”

Quocksister carried a letter signed by Homalco First Nation Chief Darren Blaney saying Quocksister was welcome on Homalco territory.

“We have a common interest in protecting our lands and waters,” Blaney said in the letter.

The flotilla of boats, many of them bearing placards with anti-fish farm slogans, circled a barge where workers had begun setting up the pens.

Mowi said on Tuesday morning it was aware of the flotilla and had “stopped farm set-up for the day to ensure there is a safe environment.”

Later in the day, the company said it was putting the project on hold following a meeting with Homalco First Nation’s chief and council.

“Mowi met with Chief Blaney and Councillors of the Homalco First Nation this morning to hear their concerns and are working with the Nation to find a pathway forward,” company spokesperson Chris Read said in a statement. “Work will be suspended at this site until further notice.”

Blaney told the Mirror in a text message that the First Nation is protecting clam gardens that date back 3,500 years.

“Our people have always relied on the shellfish resource,” he said. “We will work towards a consent-based consultation.”

Jeremy Dunn, Mowi’s director of community relations and public affairs, elaborated on the decision on Wednesday.

Dunn said the company is working with Homalco “to find a pathway forward that’s respectful of their concerns but also respectful of our employees and the 600 people that work with Mowi Canada West and depend on our operations for our livelihood.”

Until then, he said, “we won’t be working at the site.”

Dunn said the company has held a license and tenure for Cyrus Rocks since 1986, but he said the site has been fallow since 2013.

“In the Discovery Islands, we use an extended fallow strategy with all of our farms, as we’ve developed over the many years through conversations with First Nations and others,” Dunn said, calling it a sustainable approach.

READ MORE: Cermaq says experimental ‘closed-containment’ fish farm coming to Canadian waters

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READ MORE: B.C. municipalities call for shift to closed-containment fish farms

The decision to suspend construction at Cyrus Rocks was welcomed on Wednesday by Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society.

She said the area is poorly flushed and has a history of sea lice and infectious haematopoietic necrosis (IHN), a disease affecting fish.

“The site was never a good one for (Mowi), and certainly it’s never a good one for wild salmon,” Wristen said.

Wristen said that sea lice are expected to proliferate this year, especially at poorly-flushed sites, because of high salinity levels in coastal waters.

Reduced rainfall and other factors linked with climate change have made the saltwater less diluted, she said.

Mowi, formerly known as Marine Harvest, agreed to remove the Cyrus Rocks farm and three other aquaculture facilities from area waters following complaints from residents, according to Jim Abram, Strathcona Regional District (SRD) director for Area C, which includes the Okisollo Channel.

Abram said it was an informal verbal agreement with a Marine Harvest official who no longer works for the company. The four farms were moved to the Broughton Archipelaga and the Klemtu area, Abram said.

Mowi didn’t consult with local residents and Homalco First Nation before the company started putting the farm back in place recently, Abram said.

“I just think it was putting the cart before the horse by installing the farm before talking to the affected parties,” he said.

Asked to respond to Abram, Dunn said it’s difficult to comment on a conversation from perhaps ten years ago.

Dunn added, “We’re committed to working… towards finding a positive solution here, particularly with the Homalco First Nation, whose traditional territory the site resides on.”


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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