Natives pledge to fight fish farms

Salmon-growing plan for Central Coast has coalition worried about wild stock

VANCOUVER—A special committee of the British Columbia legislature that is examining the aquaculture industry is expected to enter troubled waters today when it begins a tour of several northern communities where fish farming is increasingly controversial.

Members of four first nations have promised to greet the Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture with protest banners and drummers as they step up a campaign to keep fish farms from opening on the approach waters to the Skeena River, on the Central Coast.

“We are certainly going to make people aware of the substantial risk posed to the watershed by fish farms,” Glen Williams, a spokesman for the Gitanyow First Nation, said yesterday.

Mr. Williams said two new fish farms have been approved on the Central Coast, a permit for a third is pending and there is talk of many more to possibly follow.

“We’ve heard a potential 10 to 17 farms have been proposed for the mouth of the Skeena and the mouth of the Nass Rivers,” Mr. Williams said.

“Our main concerns are that [wild] smolts [young salmon] migrating out of the watershed would end up going past those fish farms, getting infested with sea lice, and the adult salmon returning would have to go by them when they return to spawn. Disease transmission is a real concern . . . we know that from science.”

Mr. Williams said the Wet’suwet’en, Gitxsan, Gitanyow and Allied Tsimshian Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams are all united in opposing the expansion of fish farms on the Central Coast.

“The areas where they are proposing putting farms are nursery areas for [wild] smolts that are coming out of the Skeena and other rivers,” Mr. Williams said. “We rely on salmon for survival and we are just not going to let this take place in our territory.”

Mr. Williams said that in addition to making presentations to the committee the four aboriginal groups will be asking for a meeting with Premier Gordon Campbell, who has been promoting a new era of reconciliation between natives and government.

“We want to sit down with the Premier so that we can talk to him personally and make sure he understands how important this issue is to us,” Mr. Williams said.

“We will also be pressing the provincial and the federal governments to honour their duty to consult with first nations. We have a right to be consulted and we want to see our interests acted on. And if those meetings do not go well, we will turn to the courts if we have to.”

Stan Dennis, a spokesman for the Allied Tsimshian Tribes, said fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago, off Vancouver Island’s northeast coast, illustrates the dangers of aquaculture.

Fish farms have been blamed for sea lice infestations there that have devastated stocks of wild pink salmon.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Skeena watershed will not become the next Broughton and that means a ban on all fish farms in this region,” Mr. Dennis said.

But Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, said not all aboriginal groups on the coast are opposed to fish farms. Several, she said, are working in partnership with aquaculture companies and welcome the employment opportunities created when new farms open.

Pan Fish, the world’s largest fish-farm operator, is working closely with the Kitkatla band, which is located about 100 kilometres south of Prince Rupert. And Marine Harvest is working with the Kitasoo-Xaixais First Nation, at Klemtu, just north of Bella Bella, on the Central Coast.

Ms. Walling said the salmon farmers association won’t be making presentations in Prince Rupert to counter the opposition of aboriginal groups, but will be encouraging people who support fish farming to come forward.

“It’s up to the member companies to have their voices heard, and also the people in the communities,” she said, noting many small, isolated towns depend on fish farms for jobs.

The Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture is holding a series of public hearings in 19 communities over the summer.

The committee will be in Kitkatla and Prince Rupert today, Terrace tomorrow and Kitwanga and New Hazelton on Wednesday.

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