First nations oppose North Coast salmon farms

Norwegian company is proposing 3 salmon sites

Scott Simpson

Efforts to develop British Columbia’s first-ever North Coast salmon farm hit a new snag on Monday as a cluster of tribal groups warned they will take the government to court if necessary to block the project.

Pan Fish is awaiting B.C. government approval on its deal with the Kitkatla First Nation to establish an Atlantic salmon farm at Strouts Point on the Skeena River estuary south of Prince Rupert.

It would usher in the first major expansion of the industry in three decades.

But on Monday, representatives of neighboring first nations and other fish farming opponents packed a public meeting in Prince Rupert to warn a B.C. legislative committee on aquaculture that they expect the North Coast to remain “fish farm-free.”

First nations spokesman Stan Dennis told the special committee on sustainable aquaculture that the tribes fear development of fish farms around the mouth of the Skeena could threaten wild Pacific salmon that now thrive in B.C.‘s second-largest salmon-producing river system.
In addition to the Allied Tsimshian Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams, aboriginal groups along the Skeena watershed including Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan, and Gitanyow on the central Nass River, are opposed.

Dennis said the groups are prepared to escalate their campaign, including seeking a court injunction, in order to stop Pan Fish from proceeding.

“If we have to take the province to court, so be it,” Dennis said.

In a telephone interview, Dennis said evidence from fish farm opponents in the Broughton Archipelago, situated between Vancouver Island and the Mainland near Port Hardy, indicates that disease and sea lice transfers from farms to migrating wild salmon populations can deplete the wild populations.

“It’s just devastating to see the resources that have been depleted or almost extinct for that matter, whereas in the north we still have pristine estuaries and whatnot for fish coming from the Skeena River itself,” Dennis said. “The impact of these proposed operations has yet to be defined by the provincial government.”
Pan Fish, based in Norway, is the world’s largest fish farming company.

Two years ago it struck an innovative agreement with the Kitkatla First Nation to develop salmon farms at three sites in the vicinity of the Skeena mouth, and has already obtained government approval for two of them.

The project would create 100 local jobs, with the Kitkatla anticipating that many of those positions would be filled by band members—several of whom have already received training.

But the company says it needs the third site, at Strouts Point, to make the North Coast enterprise economically viable in an increasingly cost-sensitive industry. British Columbia’s main competition for the growing United States market for farmed salmon is Chile, which has lower production costs.

B.C.‘s previous approvals of North Coast sites also raised the ire of Alaskan fish and game department officials, who fear escaped Atlantic salmon could invade their streams and devastate their wild Pacific salmon populations.

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