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West Coast flotilla pounds drums against fish farm licence renewals

A flotilla for wild salmon called on the federal government to not renew fish farm licenses for 2022

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists took to the waters off Tofino Saturday, drumming songs for the wild salmon of Clayoquot Sound and calling on the federal government to evict fish farms along the B.C. Coast.

Even with high winds causing whitecaps in Tofino Harbour, a dedicated pod of kayakers, three stand-up paddlers and about a dozen vessels joined the hour-long May 7 flotilla.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) member Chris Seitcher helped organize the event in his territory.

“We are very spiritual people. We are ceremonial people. We respect everything that walks on land and everything in the ocean through our songs and dances. The reason that I’m saying that is because that’s who we are as human beings; we are connected to everything on Mother Earth,” said Seitcher after the flotilla during a circle gathering.

“There is nothing natural about the fish farms that we have in our territory. It just doesn’t really make sense to have them in the water because we are not making songs about them. There are no ceremonies about them, so why do we have them?”

Two fish farm companies operate in TFN territory: Cermaq Canada and Creative Salmon. Cermaq operates roughly 15 active fish farm sites in Ahousaht First Nations waters while their processing facility is located in Tofino and TFN territory. Creative Salmon operates four sites in TFN waters.

There are 79 fish farm licences up for renewal on June 30, including those held by Cermaq Canada and Creative Salmon in Ahousaht and TFN territory. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray to transition open-net fish farming out of B.C. waters by 2025.

An alliance of First Nations supporting that was on full display during the May 7 flotilla. Hereditary Chief George Quocksister Jr. of the Laich-kwil-tach First Nation on the central east side of Vancouver Island and Ernest Alfred, elected councillor for the ‘Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay and a Tlowitsis Nation hereditary chief, travelled from their territories to lend their support.

“We want our fish back. Stop contributing to the demise of wild salmon,” said Alfred, who was part of the collaborative effort that saw the removal of fish farms from the Broughton Archipelago.

READ: Pacific salmon recovery report gives 32 recommendations to reverse salmon declines

But not all coastal First Nations want to see fish farms removed. A newly formed coalition called the First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS), comprised of 17 First Nations with a variety of agreements with finfish aquaculture companies, want the federal government to immediately re-issue salmon farming licences in their territories, so that they can “build successful, inclusive, and respectful transition plans for Nations by 2025.”

Ahousaht First Nation Chief Hasheukumiss, Richard George, son of Tyee Hawiih is a member of the FNFFS.

“Cermaq Canada operates in our territory under the Ahousaht Protocol Agreement. Respect and recognition of Ahousaht governance, Territory, and position as a rights holder is central to the protocol. This protocol agreement covers a wide range of topics including environmental stewardship, employment, operating and communication standards, benefit sharing arrangements, and wild salmon projects,” said George in a March 21 FNFFS media release.

“Cermaq has done more for wild salmon conservation and restoration in our territory than the Federal or Provincial Governments combined.”

Dan Lewis, founding director of Tofino-based conservation organization Clayoquot Action, weighs in.

“It’s not my place to comment on Ahousaht. They have their sovereignty over their territory. They have their rights. I do believe as an advocate for wild salmon that fish farms are harming wild salmon. I do believe that fish farms have to come out of the water and I am going to continue to pressure my government to do that,” said Lewis.

RELATED: Industry report: not renewing B.C. salmon farm licenses comes with $1.2 billion cost

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