VANCOUVER — A provincial advisory council is recommending fish farm companies be required to have agreements in place with area First Nations before the British Columbia government approves any new or replacement tenures.
The proposal is part of a series of recommendations issued in a 230-page report from the advisory council.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the province will consider the recommendations as it reviews 20 fish-farm tenures that are up for renewal this June in the Broughton Archipelago off northeastern Vancouver Island.
Protesters have occupied multiple fish farms in the archipelago over the past year, claiming they are operating in First Nations’ traditional territories without their consent.
The council also recommended establishing an independent science council to review “conflicting science” and fill information gaps about the farms.
It said the government should consider putting farms in areas where there is lower salinity to reduce sea lice infestations and putting a cap on how many farmed fish are allowed in a certain area.
The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association is largely supportive of the recommendations, member Ian Roberts said. But he takes issue with a requirement for First Nations’ consent at each point of tenure renewal.
“We can agree in principle to a recommendation that allows for collaboration and consultation with First Nations, but we think — as it’s written — it’s unworkable in practice,” Roberts said.
An “extremely tenuous” environment would be created for businesses investing in multimillion-dollar projects if they became vulnerable each time a new band council is elected and could withdraw support, he said.
Chief Bob Chamberlin of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance said a coalition of seven First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago are already in talks with the province about what consent might look like for fish-farm tenure renewals in relation to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The report’s recommendations fit into a broader movement toward greater recognition of First Nations sovereignty and also represent an acknowledgment that science hasn’t been adequately considered in past salmon-farming policy, he said.
“The mounting science and evidence that has come forward, as well as the absence of science to inform decision making, and the government’s embracing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets a very different table than what we’ve had in the past. And it’s one that’s going to be a full recognition of our rights and title and the authorities we have that are inherent to our people and our self governance,” Chamberlin said.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press