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Don’t take our jobs, First Nations spokesman tells Canadian PM

May 25, 2024

Failure to renew BC salmon farm licences would come at high cost to Kitasoo Xai’xais

Isaiah Robinson pictured with Justin Trudeau last year. Robinson has added his voice to calls for six-year licence renewals for salmon farms in British Columbia.Foto: FNFFS

NationTalk: FishFarmingExpert – PUBLISHED Friday 24. May 2024 – 11:55 LAST UPDATED Saturday 25. May 2024 – 06:27

Failure to renew current salmon farming licences in British Columbia will put a remotely located First Nation at risk and will result in it suffering annual economic losses of $2.82 million in economic output, $2.8m in employment income, and 60 jobs, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been told.

The grim prospect was outlined in a letter to Trudeau from Isaiah Robinson, deputy chief councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, a coastal community situated in the Klemtu area 500 miles north of Vancouver. The  Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation sets the conditions under which tenant Mowi Canada can farm in its traditional territory.

Robinson’s open letter is the latest of several sent by those linked to the BC salmon farming sector to request that licences are renewed for a minimum period of six years.

Transition plan

The BC salmon sector has been under threat from Canada’s Liberal government since Trudeau made a 2019 election promise “to develop a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025” in the province. 

In late 2020, the then fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced the arbitrary closure of 19 farms in the Discovery Islands in BC, and in 2022 her successor Joyce Murray – a known opponent of net pen fish farms – said she would renew licences for the remaining 79 farms in BC for just two years.

Murray lost her job in a government reshuffle last July and was replaced by current fisheries minister Diane Lebouthillier who it is hoped will take a more even-handed approach to the issue.

Kitasoo Model

In his letter, Robinson said the “Kitasoo Model” of fish farming had been instrumental in fostering a robust and sustainable economy over the past three decades, successfully integrating stewardship of natural resources with community-led economic development.

He added that an Innovation Plan, expanding and modernising the framework of the Kitasoo Model, provided a sustainable development model for the local finfish aquaculture sector.

“Developed using over 20 years of scientific research and centuries of traditional knowledge, this plan represents our commitment to sustainability and community well-being,” wrote Robinson.

Technology adoption

“This plan aims to enhance technology adoption and innovation in the local industry, establish the KX Aquaculture Management Committee for environmental oversight, and develop metrics that reflect our goals and public concerns. 

At times, dialogue with the DFO and the Government of Canada has been frustrating and one-sided. We are no closer to understanding the federal government’s direction in finalising a ‘responsible transition plan’

Isaiah Robinson

“The Innovation Plan not only addresses political and public concerns regarding the salmon farming industry but also sets a foundation for a sustainable and prosperous future in finfish aquaculture, reinforcing our ability to balance environmental stewardship, economic development, and community resilience.”

Robinson said the Nation continuously asserted its Rights and Title authority in its traditional territory and had invited the government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to engage in collaborative efforts to gain insights into its forward-thinking approach to industry management.

One-sided dialogue

“At times, this dialogue with the DFO and the Government of Canada has been frustrating and one-sided. Today, we are no closer to understanding the federal government’s direction in finalising a ‘responsible transition plan’,” wrote Robinson.

He repeated the sector’s call for all salmon farm licences to be renewed for at least six years.

Robinson, a member of the Coalition of First Natons for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS), has previously spoken of the importance of salmon farming in his community. “Because of the work and dignity that comes with the salmon farming industry, we have had no suicides in my community of Klemtu for the past 18 years,” he said. “My community now has 99% employment and 51% of our income comes from the salmon farming sector. It makes no sense to shut it down. There is no industry that can fill that space.”

Gareth Moore, EDITOR