Tim Collins /News staff
Chief Don Tom, Chief of the Tsartlip First Nation is speaking out about the recent escape of Atlantic Salmon from a Washington State fish farm, calling the event a threat to all First Nations and their way of life.
“We have already had two of these salmon caught by men from our community. They were caught in the Saanich Inlet so we have no idea how far these fish are going to spread or the damage they can do,” said Tom.
The escape took place after a structural failure of the net pens at a fish farm operated by Cooke Aquaculture on August 25 when it was estimated that several thousands of the salmon were released into the waters between Anacortes and San Juan Islands.
And while company spokesman Ron Warren maintained that the fish were safe to eat, were healthy and had been treated with antibiotics in July of this year, Tom remains unimpressed with those assurances.
“These are invasive species, pure and simple. The truth is that we have no idea of what harm these fish can do to the ecosystem and to the Pacific salmon that we rely on as part of our way of life,” said Tom.
“There’s already a decline in Pacific salmon populations and we think that fish farming is part of that problem,” he added.
Tom explained that, under the 1852 Douglas Treaty, the First Nations are the beneficiaries of certain rights in regard to the salmon fishery and that any damage to that population is, by extension, a violation of that treaty.
“We have some time ago already formed the Wild Salmon Alliance (fnwildsalmon.org/) to protect the wild Pacific Salmon on British Columbia, but we intend to involve the tribes in Washington to join with us in the effort,” said Tom.
The Wild Salmon Alliance has expressed the First Nations perspective that they have a “sacred responsibility to protect wild salmon for our (First Nations) people today and for our future generations”.
“This is no small thing. We are in close proximity to the Fraser River which is one of the predominate spawning grounds for salmon. Who knows what damage a release like this can cause? It’s time for Fisheries and Oceans to consider a total moratorium on open water fish farming,” said Tom.
Tom is hopeful that a meeting next week between the newly installed government of John Horgan and First Nations leaders will be a starting point for changing the regulations governing fish farming off the B.C. coast and elsewhere along the U.S. coast.
“It’s time to change this situation and protect our coastline from this invasive species and the diseases and sea lice that we know they carry,” said Tom.