LAICH-KWIL-TACH TERRITORY/Campbell River, BC – Members of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (the Coalition) fully support the application for a judicial review from two Laich-kwil-tach First Nations, the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai, regarding DFO Minister Joyce Murray’s recent decision not to re-issue Atlantic salmon farming licences in core Laich-kwil-tach territory, also known as the Discovery Islands region.
“This 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,” says Ronnie Chickite, elected Chief Councillor of the We Wai Kai First Nation. “We strongly believe the Minister’s decision to not re-issue licences in our territories was a political decision heavily influenced by Nations who do not have title in our territory.”
The Laich-kwil-tach Nations submitted a careful, well-thought-out proposal to the Minister in November 2022 based on an incremental re-introduction process to trial finfish operations, beginning with one farm operating for one cycle in their core territory under heavy oversight by their Nations.
“This staggered approach would have encouraged Indigenous-led detailed research and analysis of the impact of finfish farms in our waters, blending western science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. It would have also supported commitments to and investments in new technology to reduce or eliminate interactions between farmed and wild salmon in our territory,” says Chris Roberts, elected Chief Councillor of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation. “After a trial process and further engagement with our members, we would then consider next steps if we could determine for ourselves that impacts of fish farms are minimal or negligible on wild salmon and the environment.”
“Rejecting this proposal is rejecting our right to decide for ourselves, with our own research and knowledge, whether salmon farming was a fit for our communities,” adds Chief Roberts. “It’s a clear lack of recognition of our inherent right to self-determination.”
Minister Murray’s decision has set a dangerous precedent for the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai Nations for any future decision-making when it comes to marine resource management in their territories. It has also set a precedent that’s disconcerting for the other Nations in this Coalition who wish to pursue salmon aquaculture in their waters, as the Minister’s decision was based on an undefined “enhanced precautionary approach” and could have ripple effects on rights, on coastal communities, as well as across Canada.
“When it came to fish farming, we saw an opportunity to directly participate in the local seafood sector while utilizing a divisive issue to advance our internal decision-making process and science capacity to achieve transparent and objective outcomes and make informed decisions,” says Chief Roberts. “This would have resulted in more certainty and predictability for economic and investor confidence, while prioritizing the environment and sustainability that we all care about.”
“Our priority is and always has been the protection, stewardship and restoration of wild Pacific salmon stocks in our territories,” adds Chief Chickite. “Our proposal would allow us to conduct Indigenous oversight and monitoring, build Guardian Watchmen programs, and create a holistic approach to managing the marine environment consistent with our self-determination and the protection of wild salmon. Our proposal was entirely ignored.”
Beyond the impact on Indigenous rights, further closures to BC’s number one agri-food export not based on sound science will put further pressure on already strained wild stocks to feed North Americans, while increasing the cost of farmed salmon for those same families already struggling with affordability issues.
It is the Coalition’s hope that this decision can once again be quashed or set aside by the federal court, so that the Laich-kwil-tach’s proposal can be properly considered; so that faith can be restored within Indigenous communities that their rights matter; and so that proper dialogue can begin between title holder Nations, salmon farming companies, and the provincial and federal governments when it comes to creating an Indigenous-led Blue Economy for Canada.