On this week’s show, host John Ivison talks with Isaiah Robinson, councillor and economic development head for the Kitsoo Xai’xais First Nation in northern B.C..
The community’s salmon farming industry is under threat of government closure over fears that the farmed Atlantic salmon are harming migrating wild salmon.
The government is committed to “transition” but Robinson says it is not clear what that means.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “We’re not really part of the process, unfortunately.”
The fear in Robinson’s remote community, and in others where salmon farming is the main source of revenue, is that the fisheries minister, Joyce Murray, will extend her decision in February not to reissue licences for 15 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands to the province’s other 60 or so farms.
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That decision was taken despite the minister receiving advice from the department of Fisheries and Oceans’ own scientists that there is “minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon” from the fish farms.
Robinson said the DFO advice aligns with what the Kitsoo Xai’xias have observed.
“We’ve been doing our own science for over 20 years. Sea lice, containments, wild salmon, we’ve done the whole thing. The overall interaction in our work is in the agreement with DFOs, with their science in the end. So, it doesn’t appear that there’s really any effect of the wild salmon,” he said. “Obviously there’s issues like climate change. It’s probably the largest issue that’s causing the current issue with the wild stock.”
Murray has ignored the science offered by her own department and appears to prefer the advice of groups like the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, which argues that there’s a large body of peer-reviewed research that has found a statistical relationship between parasitic lice on farms and wild salmon. They say there’s a pro-farming salmon industry bias at the Department of Fisheries, and accuse the department of being “blind to outside science”.
Robinson said it is unfortunate that environmentalists discredit the work First Nations have been doing in their territories.
Murray was due to take her transition proposal to cabinet this month but this week said she would extend the consultation process by six months.
Robinson said he is not confident the extra time will make any difference.
“I’ve interacted with her many a times in the last two years since we’ve had this situation and knowing her and those discussions, her decision has already been made…She’s on a warpath and she just wants to get this over with,” he said.
First Nations and industry can take some encouragement from the rumoured revolt by some of Murray’s Cabinet colleagues, who are said to be upset about the potential consequences on Liberal re-election prospects of shutting down an industry that generates $2 billion a year and employs 8,000 people.
Robinson said the impact will be felt by all Canadians.
“There’s so many other layers to this decision and when it comes down to it, this is not just going to affect my community it’s going to affect the whole coast of British Columbia. And not just that, Canada as a whole,” he said. “I was just reading yesterday that StatsCan says there’s a decrease of fresh product in Canada, in regards to fruits and stuff. You throw this great protein out… the amount of money that people are going to have to start spending for food is just unprecedented.”
He said closing down the industry would also be detrimental to the government’s goal of Indigenous reconciliation. “You can’t pick and choose when reconciliation can be done,” he said.
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