January 25, 2023
Update: Salmon Aquaculture Transition in Wei Wai Kum Territory
Yo’ membership of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation, we are providing this written update to recap and inform you of where things are at with open net salmon farms in our territory, what steps have been taken so far and what is next. We want to communicate our approach to this very important topic to the members directly as there are a lot of discussions and media statements by other groups circulating as the DFO Minister Joyce Murray is set to make a decision on reissuing salmon farm licenses in what they call the Discovery Islands. Up front, we want to assure you that although steps have been taken and agreements have been entered into with the companies, we have positioned ourselves well to be in the driver’s seat and remain committed to taking direction from the membership on ultimately what happens in the future with this industry in our waters.
- In December 2020, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada made a decision to not renew 19 salmon farming licenses in our territory, this came be know as the DI decision.
- Leading up to this decision we took the approach of working together with We Wai Kai and Kwiakah and asserted, that as the rights and title holders in Legwilda’xw territory, we should be recognized as the decision makers.
- Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai began discussions and negotiations with the companies and with government on a process that would see our Nations’ gain control of the process.
- This decision was applauded by many, including us, because it reset the table of how we would approach any type of future aquaculture in our territory. Having said that, there were significant problems with how the Minister made the decision because they refused to acknowledge the decision-making rights of our Nations. It’s not that we would have arrived at a different decision necessarily – it’s the fact that it should have been our decision to make as a Nation, not neighboring Nations that shouldn’t have a say in our territory.
- The 3 salmon farm companies took the federal government to court over this decision and they won, citing they weren’t granted a fair process, or enough notice to plan for a transition etc. The decision to close the 19 farms was overturned by the Federal court. The Minister was then told to go through the process again and do better at First Nations consultation while developing a transition plan with industry.
- Together We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum negotiated agreements with Cermaq, Mowi and eventually Grieg Seafood that commit the companies to respect the decision-making authority of the Nations on whether they could continue to operate in our territory. Any operations would be under the terms and conditions set down by the Nations. In these agreements there are commitments to:
- a) transfer the marine tenures to the Nations (giving us ultimate control);
- b) transition to new technologies and methods of salmon farming that eliminate impacts to wild salmon (e.g. closed containment, exploring other species i.e. kelp);
- c) support our wild salmon enhancement and restoration initiatives; and
- d) make financial payments to the Nations for monitoring activities by the Guardian programs, science and research, and capacity building of our administrations.
Things to Note / Our Considerations:
- Wild Salmon sustainability is first and foremost in all considerations, and the current emphasis is on recovery of populations, habitat restoration, and enhancement opportunities for wild salmon in our territories.
- The approach the federal government has taken on this issue ignores the commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which they have committed to implementing, and we’re trying to hold them accountable to this.
- We are not trying to save the salmon farming industry in our territory for any type of payout or profit, and we are not protecting the status quo of keeping 19 salmon farms in our territory operating.
- It’s about working with the industry, the government, and our membership to determine if there are different approaches and technologies for salmon farming practices that would reduce or eliminate risk to wild salmon and the environment. And if so, what are the terms and conditions required for this to take place; if the answer is no, then we continue to hold industry accountable for repairing the impacts and harm that has been done and supporting investigations into other uses (e.g. kelp aquaculture for the sites).
- The current approach involves investigating the possibility of research-focused operations at possibly 2-3 sites on a one grow out cycle basis so that impacts can be measured and studied and inform next steps.
- This is very much the approach that has been taken in the Broughton Archipelago by three Nations (Mamalilikulla, ‘Namgis, and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis), government and industry for the past 4 years. It is known as the Indigenous Monitoring and Inspection Program and has supported those Nations’ capacity to grow and establish guardian programs and aquatic resource management practices and will ultimately inform whether any longer-term operations can take place in their territory. Those Nations have been pretty clear that they do not support any long term salmon farming operations, yet they have been engaged in a defined process over a period of time of phasing out salmon farming.
- A frustrating thing for us is that representatives of these Nations and others continue to publicly state that no farms should be allowed to be stocked in the Discovery Islands while they continue to have operations in their territories and ongoing monitoring and negotiations will inform the next steps.
We remain committed to working with the membership to openly communicate the details of how we will take the next steps. We have worked hard to have the Nation in the favorable position so that whatever happens in the future will only happen with the approval our Nation.
Gilakas’la On behalf of Chief and Council.