Agriculture Minister Lana Popham says her letter to a B.C. salmon farm company last week was not a threat to cancel salmon farm tenures in a disputed area north of Vancouver Island.
Marine Harvest Canada went ahead with restocking its Port Elizabeth farm near Alert Bay on the weekend despite the formal request to stop, and an RCMP boat attended the area to maintain order with protesters who have occupied area salmon farms since late August.
Popham’s Oct. 13 letter to Marine Harvest Canada managing director Vincent Erenst said the restocking “comes at a very sensitive time in government-to-government discussions” with aboriginal people who assert territory in the Broughton Archipelago and oppose ocean-based salmon farms. The province has 18 salmon farm tenures that are coming up for renewal next year.
“As you are aware, government will be reviewing tenures and will make a decision on renewals before the current leases expire in June 2018,” Popham wrote. “While the issuance of any replacement tenure or any permission to allow you continued occupation of existing sites on a month-to-month [basis] remains subject to future decision-making processes and cannot be guaranteed, we look forward to your input on the lease renewal decisions.”
[See letter below]
In an interview with Black Press, Popham said the letter was not meant as a threat, and she understands the company’s decision to go ahead with restocking its salmon.
“I think one thing we can all agree on is that the status quo is not going to happen any more,” Popham said. “The salmon farmers also agree with that.”
Marine Harvest communications director Ian Roberts said the restocking was put off as long as possible, and the need to proceed and maintain the health of live salmon was communicated to the government. He added that the protesters have refused to meet with company officials, and Marine Harvest is willing to talk about solutions, including relocating salmon farms.
“However, that solution must include maintaining the business we have built over 30 years in B.C. with the support of the provincial and federal governments,” Roberts said in a statement. “We have a very good track record of working with First Nation governments who are willing to meet with us – currently having protocol agreements with 15 First Nations out of the 24 First Nations in whose traditional territories we operate.”
Popham’s letter was copied to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who has licence authority over offshore salmon farms on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.