PORT HARDY, B.C. — Members of two British Columbia First Nations say they have occupied a salmon farm on a small island on the province’s coast, the second such protest to be held in the past week.
Chief Willie Moon, also known as Okwilagame, says about 16 members of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw and the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwamis arrived at the Wicklow Point salmon farm on Thursday afternoon.
He says about five protesters plan to stay until the provincial and federal governments revoke permits for the facility on Broughton Island, about 50 kilometres east of Port Hardy.
Moon says his First Nation has spent decades trying to bring forward their concerns about long-term environmental damage caused by fish farms in their traditional territories.
The protest began as members of the ‘Namgis First Nation and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society continued their occupation of a salmon farm on nearby Swanson Island, which started last week.
Both farms are owned by Marine Harvest Canada and spokesman Ian Roberts said Thursday the company is very concerned about what is now “a very unsafe situation” and has asked the groups to leave.
He did not elaborate on the safety concerns but said the company is responsible for the safety of everyone who enters its private workplace.
“We would appreciate hearing the concerns of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw and Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwamis First Nations directly, to find solutions where necessary, and to provide information that show our salmon farms to be operating responsibly and with little environmental impact,” he said in a statement.
Moon said his community has opposed the industry since it was first introduced and has never signed an agreement with any company operating in its traditional territories.
He says the province has disregarded the First Nation’s opposition when issuing permits for fish farms.
“They just go ahead and do it. For me, that’s a slap in the face,” he says. “How can the governments of Canada and B.C. say they want to do reconciliation with First Nations when yet there’s still destruction in our waters, on our lands, in our territory?”
The B.C. Agriculture Ministry and Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has said she plans to speak with First Nations leaders about salmon farms at a gathering in Vancouver next week, which Moon said he plans to attend.