On Saturday, Sept. 26 dozens of boats, kayaks, and canoes gathered on the water in front of Tofino’s First Street dock to shed some light on the issue of fish farms and the protection of wild salmon. Organized by the Nuu-chah-nulth Salmon Alliance, the peaceful water demonstration saw participation from local conservation groups, whale watching operators, local business owners, and recreational fishers.
“The coho are starting to head up for their migration up the rivers now so send them some good energy,” Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Tsimka Martin said over the megaphone as she greeted the flotilla participants.
Martin told the demonstrators that “maƛasuwił”, meaning salmon farm, means underwater prison in Nuu-chah-nulth language.
“It’s time for the return of the c̓ac̓ałuk (river keeper). It is time for the removal of the salmon cage,” she said.
From a kayak, Clayoquot Action’s Dan Lewis voiced his concerns about wild salmon.
“The reason we are gathered here today is because eight years ago the Cohen commission recommended that the fish farms in the Discovery Islands be removed this Sept. 30, 2020 if it cannot be shown that they are not causing harm to the Fraser River Sockeye. They had a sea lice epidemic this year. They have viruses like PRV on those farms. The science is showing that the harm is being caused to wild salmon and we believe that those farms need to be removed,” said Lewis.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced Sept. 28 that assessments on nine pathogens showed a minimal risks to wild salmon, effectively ending the remote possibility of closing farms in the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30.
Jay Parsons, the department’s director of aquaculture, said the risk of the viruses transferring from farmed to wild stocks in the Fraser River is less than one per cent.
Martin refutes the decision.
“DFO is not doing what’s right for wild salmon. That leave it up to a people’s movement. I want them to recognize that sea lice and diseases are deadly and to remove salmon farms,” she told the Westerly.
Tofino live-aboard Alistair Horne joined the Sept. 26 flotilla with his 45-foot former trawler called ‘Heron’. A bright sign reading: ‘Fish Pharms Out’ was draped over the side of his boat.
“It’s a play on the antibiotics Cermaq puts in [fish] feed,” he said, adding that he wants to see fish farms moved to land.
Lewis said while fish farm jobs are important, it’s just as important to protect all the jobs in the wild salmon economy.
“We have been calling for a transitional strategy for workers for years. We can create way more abundance by protecting wild salmon than by continuing farming,” said Lewis.
MP Gord Johns, NDP Critic for Fisheries and Oceans, is calling on the Liberal government to keep their promise to implement the recommendations of the Cohen Commission.
“The Minister can’t both promote open-net salmon farms and claim to be a protector of Pacific wild salmon,” said Johns. “By choosing to defend these farms, the Minister is ignoring local Indigenous knowledge and the Cohen Commission – a $36 million scientific study,” said MP Johns in an Oct. 2 media release.
Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said a promise by the Liberal party before the 2019 election to transition from open-net salmon to another system of salmon farming by 2025 is in the works and the studies on the nine pathogens are part of that process.
However, she did not commit to whether a new system would be in place by 2025 beyond developing a plan for it.
Jordan said four weeks of consultation will be done with the seven First Nations in the Discovery Islands.
– With files from Camille Bains, The Canadian Press