On June 11, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members and Tribal Park allies boarded two Creative Salmon fish farms with Go Pros on rods to get video footage of what was inside the closed-net pens.
The fish farms, both located in Tla-o-qui-aht unceded waters, were boarded under the authority of the Tla-o-qui-aht Hereditary Chief Ray Seitcher. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society research vessel Martin Sheen supported the Nation with transportation and food.
Joe Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht Master Carver and Tribal Parks Guardian, was among the group that boarded the fish farms.
“The farms were boarded because we have been suspecting that things have been going wrong in there. I have spoken with many people who work at these places. People volunteered information. We had to have a look,” Joe Martin said.
“Ever since these farms have been in our waters our stocks have all been declining. And why? No one is even fishing them. The only reason I can figure out is because all these salmon farms are on their migration route,” he said.
The Creative Salmon pens produce farmed Chinook salmon and are located near Warne Island within Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO listed World Biosphere Reserve.
“Our Chiefs did sign leases with Creative Salmon formerly with informed prior consent,” notes Martin. “But, the consent was because we really did not know the implications of salmon farming in our waters. Creative Salmon has always been telling us there is no problems in their farms because they are farming Chinook salmon, local species, but in fact the salmon in those pens, many of them are very sick.”
Tsimka Martin, owner of Tofino based T’ashii Paddle School, was involved with the fish farm boarding. She said they looked in every pen on both the farms they visited.
“We saw wild herring. A lot of these herring had open wounds on the sides of their bodies. We saw some of the farmed salmon that were very disfigured. We saw some salmon with what looked like ulcers. Some salmon looked like they were yellow and jaundice. We saw some crows that were stuck inside of the nets,” Tsimka told the Westerly News.
In a media release issued by Sea Shepherd, biologist Alexandra Morton, who was on board the Martin Sheen and reviewed footage from the day’s activities stated, “seeing the jaundice Chinook in the pens means Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV) is being released into wild salmon habitat and this is going to be part of the reason wild Chinook salmon in the region have mysteriously collapsed. It’s very concerning.”
Cultural activist Gisele Martin carried a medicine woman mask aboard the fish farms.
“I just concentrated on witnessing what’s going on with the farms with that mask and really feeling what our people would have thought of it. How our ancestors would have thought of it,” said Gisele Martin.
“Now the truth is on film. We got footage. It’s time for us to act accordingly,” said Gisele.
Creative Salmon’s general manager Tim Rundle said the June 11 boarding of the fish farms was very unnecessary and disruptive for staff.
“We’ve had such a longstanding, positive relationship with Tla-o-qui-aht. We’ve had a fish farm committee, which has Tla-o-qui-aht Hereditary Chiefs that meets quarterly for the last six years. Previous to that we had a liaison position. We’ve always been open and transparent. We’ve always lined up site visits and we would have done the same in this regard had we heard from those Tla-o-qui-aht members that had concerns,” said Rundle, adding that about 30 per cent of Creative Salmon employees are First Nations.
Rundle went on to say that the fish seen in the recent Tla-o-qui-aht video represent a very small minority.
“Ninety per cent of our salmon goes from smolts to harvest successfully. We’ve got great fish health on our sites. There is going to be a small number of fish in any population that doesn’t perform well, but quite frankly we couldn’t be in business supplying fish in the market that weren’t meeting a high quality of standard. Creative Salmon does a high quality organic Chinook salmon,” he said.