Protesters with signs, banners and cardboard salmon in hand demonstrated outside of Premier John Horgan’s office in Langford Friday.
Fish Farms Out Now, an ad hoc civil society group led by indigenous elders and leaders, was joined by supporters in a peaceful protest against fish farms in B.C. waters.
“First Nations people have been protesting against these floating mortuaries that are spewing their pathogens into the marine environment and after 30 years are destroying, are decimating, are wiping out the indigenous salmon stock, which are the food supply of indigenous communities on this coast,” said Victoria resident Bobby Arbess. “It is time that we all stand up and demand from this new government that action be taken immediately.”
In a statement the group noted demonstrations were being “held in solidarity with the occupations of Marine Harvest’s fish farms on Swanson and Midsummer islands within the traditional territories of the Musgamagw (including Dzawada’enuxw, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and Gwawaenuk), ‘Namgis and Mamalilkala First Nations, where First Nations leaders have peacefully occupied open-net salmon farms for the last 50 days.”
Their demands include no restocking of existing empty pens or sites, no use of hydrogen peroxide to be used to treat sea lice infestations, no renewal of licenses and/or tenures, and for the industry to remove all open-net cage fish farm sites from the collective territorial waters.
|Protesters gathered outside of Premier John Horgan’s office on Jacklin Road in Langford Friday afternoon to stand against fish farms in the province. (Katherine Engqvist/News Gazette staff)
Fish Farms Out Now is calling for the provincial government “to honour its election promise to remove open-net fish farms — a request which First Nations in the area have repeatedly asked of government for the past 30 years.”
While in opposition, B.C. NDP politicians campaigned against the net-pen industry and led a committee that recommended B.C.’s North Coast be kept off limits to them.
Roughly 20 protesters gathered outside of Horgan’s office on Jacklin Road to kickoff Friday’s protest.
“The salmon is sacred,” said Alert Bay resident Dawna Ambers. “If we lose the salmon we lose a big part of our culture … I look in my freezer and there’s no salmon there anymore, it’s just an empty freezer.”
Ambers, whose given name is Tsastilqualus, added “it’s so, so bad for our people … Stop the permits now and get the cesspool out of our waters.”
Protesters referenced another event earlier in the week where Horgan met with First Nations in Alert Bay who are protesting open-pen fish farms, stating Horgan failed to release a significant statement against fish farms after that event.
Horgan was also accompanied by Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, the MLA for North Island. Rachel Blaney, MP for North Island-Powell River also attended the event, which was held on Oct. 10.
While Horgan did not commit to removing the fish farms in Alert Bay, he instead announced Popham would be meeting with the federal Minister for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, “to tell Mr. Leblanc what she has heard here today and what the commitment is of our government, which is first and foremost to protect wild salmon.”
Horgan also said he was “prepared to meet again in Victoria with a delegation of your choosing so we can talk about next steps.”
No one appeared to be in the Langford office Friday during the protest – a note taped to the door indicated the office was closed while staff were out for meetings and would reopen later in the afternoon.
The Premier could not be reached for comment but in a statement, Popham said “the B.C. government respects the right of people to engage in peaceful protests. As always, we ask people to remain respectful of one another and encourage the resolution of issues through discussion wherever possible.”
She reiterated that she was at the event on Oct. 10 to listen and appreciated the invitation. “I hear and understand the concerns being raised by First Nations and members of the public and I have been proactive in meeting with my federal counterparts regarding the importance and urgency of this issue. At the same time, it is important to recognize that the industry now generates nearly $800 million in annual value, while supporting numerous jobs in rural and coastal areas.”
Popham added, “I am committed to continuing to work with First Nations, the aquaculture industry, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to ensure B.C.’s aquaculture sector is environmentally sustainable and respects First Nations’ rights while continuing to provide good jobs for British Columbians.”
With files from Hanna Petersen/Black Press