A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)

First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

B.C.’s First Nations Leadership Council is calling on Canada’s fisheries minister to immediately revoke the 18 salmon farm licences from the Discovery Islands ahead of her official decision expected sometime this month.

In a statement today (Dec. 3) the council, comprised of political executives from the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, acknowledged other cumulative stressors impacting salmon populations, but demanded a fundamental shift in salmon conservation by implementing the precautionary principle with salmon farms.

“From the Cohen Commission, we already know that there is no singular threat that explains the decline of Pacific salmon,” Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the BC Assembly of First Nations said. “We know that combinations of stressors, the cumulative impacts of threats, is causing this decline. What we need to do, by applying the Precautionary Principle at every level of policy, programs and management, is take action across the suite of known threats and risk that are all contributing to the collapse of wild Pacific salmon stocks.”

READ MORE: Sea lice counts under-reported on B.C. salmon farms: study

The Discovery Islands create a bottleneck in a critical out-migration route for juvenile salmon that opponents say increases their risk of exposure to sea lice and viruses from open-net pens in the area.

The 2012 Cohen Commission inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye recommended the removal of these farms by September of this year if their threat to wild stocks exceeded minimal risk. However, risk assessments conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in the fall found the salmon farms were performing below the threshold for such action.

The BCSFA has previously stated an abundance of science and conservation measures have gone into salmon farming since the release of the Cohen report.

Nonetheless, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan ordered DFO to consult with seven First Nations communities bordering the Discovery Islands before deciding this month whether to renew the aquaculture licences.

Jordan has also previously been given the mandate to develop a plan for removing all open-net pens from B.C. waters by 2025. Among the alternatives, opponents want the farms moved on land to avoid all contact with wild species. The industry warns that would be both ecologically costly to the environment, and financially devastating to the industry.

According to the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) the industry has agreements in place with 20 B.C. First Nations, while supporting 7,000 jobs and contributing $1.5 billion annually to the provincial economy.

Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco First Nation, one of the seven communities being consulted in the Discovery Islands, is opposed to the salmon farms, and like many others worries the current treatments will loose their potency.

“The diminishing returns on the effectiveness of lice treatments and diseases … is the decimation of our salmon. It definitely impacts our ability to pass on our culture when sockeye are only viable every fourth year.”

BC salmon farming operators contacted for this story could not be reached or declined interview requests on grounds, one company said, out of respect for the local First Nations and the government-to-government process underway.

READ MORE: Anti-salmon farm protesters rally outside DFO offices

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