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Indigenous peoples occupy Norwegian-owned salmon farm in northwestern British Columbia

The Council of Canadians expresses its solidarity with the Indigenous peoples who are now occupying a salmon farm operated by the Norwegian transnational corporation Marine Harvest on Swanson Island, which is located about 330 kilometres north-west of Vancouver. The occupation is being directly supported by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society sailing ship the RV Martin Sheen.

The occupation of the farm – which is being operated by the corporation without the permission of First Nations on the traditional territory of the ‘Namgis and Maya’xala Awinakola peoples – was prompted by concerns that the diseases and sea lice that are rampant in fish farms (where salmon are kept in pens/open-nets in the ocean) threaten wild salmon and the ability of orca whales to feed.

The Globe and Mail now reports, “A group of First Nations and environmentalists are occupying a salmon farm near Alert Bay, B.C., and say they won’t leave until the provincial and federal governments revoke permits for the facility. Ernest Alfred, a traditional leader from the ‘Namgis, Tlowitsis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, said he and other protesters arrived six days ago at the farm owned by Marine Harvest Canada on Swanson Island and are now building a shelter. He said the farm is threatening their traditional way of life by impacting wild salmon and herring stocks, and he’s also demanding an overall end to open-net fish farming in the sensitive Broughton Archipelago area.”

Alfred says, “We can’t sit by. I cannot sit by any longer while these farms continue to infest our waters, putting all of our marine ecosystem at risk. The time for the very long debate about fish farms has passed. …My family and I are committed to staying here until [the government of British Columbia] cancels the licenses of occupation in our territories. Canada [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] must stop this industry from putting infected or diseased Atlantic salmon in our waters. Marine Harvest must halt operations and take these fish out today.”

The article highlights, “Alexandra Morton, a biologist and long-time fish farm critic, is participating in the occupation with five others aboard a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel. She said four Indigenous protesters have set up on the farm itself. The protest was prompted in part by video filmed by Alfred and another First Nations leader, which was then released by Sea Shepherd last week that purported to show Atlantic salmon inside fish farms in the area between Alert Bay and Campbell River. Many of the fish appeared blind, deformed or diseased, Morton said.”

Sea Shepherd has explained, “Die offs are common in the salmon industry and can occur when the farmed fish get sick, as the pens are an aquatic version of factory farming that is a breeding ground for disease and parasites. With farmed salmon packed so close together, mass contamination in the pens is unavoidable.”

And Morton has highlighted, “[The farmed salmon industry] use the ocean as an open sewer and dump their waste straight into it, specifically the viruses and sea lice that breed in industrial farms. They’re allowed to pour that on to the biggest salmon migration routes in Canada.”

The North Island Gazette notes, “Both the Green Party and the NDP candidates previously stated they would work to remove salmon farms from the territories of First Nations who do not want salmon farms operating in their waters.” The Canadian Press highlights, “British Columbia’s Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she has not reached out to the protesters, but she plans to raise the issue with First Nations leaders at a gathering in Vancouver next week [while] Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.”

The Council of Canadians first began raising concerns about farmed salmon in March 2013. At least six Council of Canadians chapters have screened ‘Salmon Confidential’, a film about the federal government’s suppression of findings on what is killing BC’s wild salmon. In July 2016, the Chilliwack chapter was in Vancouver to greet the Sea Shepherd vessel the Martin Sheen at the launch of this campaign against farmed salmon.

There will be a rally in Victoria tomorrow (August 31) in support of this occupation.

For updates, please see the Swanson Occupation Facebook page here.

#RespectOurSalmon #OpVirusHunter #FishFarmsGetOut