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First Nations Coalition Supports Minister’s Decision to Close Open Net-Pen Fish Farms in the Discovery Islands

August 16, 2023

NationTalk: (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil Waututh) /Vancouver, B.C.) — The Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, ‘Namgis First Nation, St’át’imc Chiefs Council, Stó꞉lō Tribal Council, Musqueam Indian Band, and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (together the “First Nations Coalition”) have jointly applied together to the Federal Court for leave to intervene in a critical case for the survival of the Fraser River wild salmon and the closure of open net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands area of BC.

The First Nations Coalition is comprised of three First Nations; a tribal council and a Nation Indigenous government, collectively representing 19 First Nations; and a long-standing provincial First Nations advocacy organization that advocates for the inherent Title and Rights of more than half of the First Nations in British Columbia. Together, our laws, customs, and traditions require us to act in a precautionary manner, to respect, and protect our Territories and way of life. We are pursuing this course of action because our inherent title, rights and responsibilities to wild salmon and wild salmon habitat are integral to our survival, identity and culture, and we have an obligation to protect and preserve wild salmon for current and future generations.

On February 17, 2023, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard (the “Minister”) announced that 15 open net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands area would be closed. The We Wai Kai Nation and the Wei Wai Kum First Nation, along with three foreign owned open net-pen fish farm companies (Mowi Canada West Inc., Grieg Seafood B.C. Ltd., and Cermaq Canada Ltd.), are challenging this decision in the Federal Court. Together they say that the Minister’s decision was unreasonable and inconsistent with the Crown’s duty to consult with the We Wai Kai Nation and the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.

We, the members of the First Nations Coalition, are coming together to support the Minister’s decision to apply the precautionary principle and close the Discovery Islands open net-pen fish farms. The Minister’s decision protects wild Fraser River salmon and their habitat together with upholding our rights and responsibilities in relation to these precious migratory fish – which are also an important component of a fully functioning ecosystem, towards addressing global warming and climate change, that open net-pen fish farms are unable to provide for.

Before deciding to close the open net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands, the Minister stated publicly that the decision was about enacting the precautionary principle. The Minister considered many factors when making her decision, which she clearly described as a precautionary decision made in the context of scientific uncertainty. Where, as in this case, the future of wild salmon is at stake, she also needed to consider what would protect the Aboriginal right to fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes of the First Nations along the migratory routes of Fraser River salmon, and what was required to uphold the rights affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We have all been deeply impacted by open net-pen fish farms along the migratory routes of the wild salmon that we rely on. Together, we have known for a long time that open net-pen fish farms along wild salmon migration routes expose those salmon to pathogens, which lead to disease, and are also a source of parasites such as sea lice which attach to juvenile salmon on their way out to sea.

The Discovery Islands are an incredibly important place along the migratory route of Fraser River wild salmon. We are aware of the specific risks posed by the open net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands to Fraser-bound wild salmon and have been consistently raising these concerns with the Minister in relation to the future of the Discovery Islands open net-pen fish farms.

Together, we are united in our commitment and determination to seeing the end of open net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands. The applicants in this case are asking the Court to consider what the Minister can and should take into account when making decisions about the continued operation of open net-pen fish farms in coastal waters within British Columbia. We have a genuine interest in this question, and in particular the need for the Minister to consider impacts to the Aboriginal and Inherent rights of all First Nations along the migratory route of wild salmon that migrate past these open net-pen fish farms and specifically Fraser River sockeye.


Hereditary and Elected Chief Tłakodlas and Nalanukwamgilakw – Chief Rick Johnson (Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation)

“KHFN relies heavily on Fraser River-bound sockeye salmon as they pass through the Johnstone Strait. As a Hereditary Chief, I have a responsibility to steward our lands, waters and resources according to our strict Indigenous law and governance practices. KHFN does not consent to the continuation of any open net-pen fish farms in our Territory or along the migration routes of any of the wild salmon species that travel through or return to our Territory. This is because the health and survival of migrating wild salmon depends on removing and reducing threats and stressors they face along their entire migratory routes.”

Hereditary Chief Homiskanis – Don Svanvik (‘Namgis First Nation)

“While different stressors are likely contributing to the decline of wild Pacific salmon – such as deforestation and climate change – ‘Namgis has known for decades that the open net-pen fish farms along their migratory routes are causing wild salmon harm by amplifying the spread of harmful pathogens and parasites and creating a harmful environment for them to pass through. The waste from open net-pen fish farms causes damage to the other marine life and indeed the whole ecosystem that we and wild salmon rely on. Unlike the long-term work such as restoring our forests and watersheds, and addressing climate change, open net-pen fish farms are an impact to wild salmon that can and must be addressed now.”

Tribal Chief and President of the Stó:lō Tribal Council – Tribal Chief Tyrone McNeil (Stó:lo Tribal Council)

“As Stó:lō peoples, the Stó:lō Tribal Council’s members have a deep respect for the Fraser River and the salmon people. As Fraser River wild salmon are our relatives, we have the responsibility and obligation to care for them, defend them, and steward them so that we can continue to take care of each other in a reciprocal relationship as we have since time immemorial. Pursuant to our laws and responsibilities, we have consistently advocated against open-net pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia. In my view, our laws and responsibilities to wild salmon and wild salmon habitat together with the rights of STC members to Fraser River wild salmon must be factored into any Ministerial decision regarding the licensing of open-net pen salmon farms along the migratory route of Fraser River wild salmon, and in particular the Discovery Islands area. ”

Elected Chief and Chair of the St’át’imc Chiefs’ Council – Chief Justin Kane (Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation)

“Fraser River wild salmon are essential to the identity and survival of the St’át’imc people. If the Fraser River wild salmon disappear the St’át’imc as we exist today will disappear. The St’át’imc have the responsibility and obligation to defend and steward the Fraser River wild salmon which have fed our people since time immemorial. As holders of what has historically been one of the richest fisheries along the Fraser River, we take this responsibility and obligation seriously. The Fraser River wild salmon face many threats. However, we believe that open net-pen fish farms along the migration routes of the Fraser River wild salmon are one of the main contributing factors to their decline. With consecutive years of historical low Fraser River wild salmon returns, significant steps in all areas must be taken now to protect Fraser River wild salmon from extinction.”

Chief Wayne Sparrow (Musqueam First Nation)

“Musqueam territory includes the mouth of the Fraser River and the marine waters surrounding the mouth of the river and we therefore have a unique responsibility to protect the river and the valuable resources within it. We are the protectors of the fish and the waters and we have a responsibility to protect these resources for future generations as well as for the people who live further up the Fraser River. Musqueam have consistently expressed our clear and unwavering opposition to the operation of open-net pen fish farms in the waters around the Discovery Islands on the undisputed basis that we hold constitutionally-protected and Supreme Court of Canada affirmed rights to Fraser River wild salmon, which are being negatively and severely impacted by the open-net pen fish farms located in the key out-migration corridor for Fraser River salmon.”

ʔaʔsiwɬ, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs – Grand Chief Stewart Phillip

“UBCIC and its members are extremely concerned about the health of wild salmon populations in BC. While wild salmon populations in BC fluctuate from year to year, the trend in recent years and decades has been one of steep and alarming decline. BC First Nations have been deeply impacted by the decline in the health and abundance of wild salmon, which, in combination with competition from Crown-authorized commercial and recreational fisheries and degradation of marine and freshwater habitats, has profoundly and adversely affected BC First Nations. Supported by our member First Nations, UBCIC has long been an advocate for the importance of considering upstream and downstream impacts of a proposed action or project. UBCIC was clear in the resolutions and submissions that were provided to the Minister that open net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands pose serious harm to wild salmon migrating to the Fraser River watershed, and that the impact of those open net-pen fish farms is not limited to the Discovery Islands area.”

Hereditary Chief – Dr. Robert Joseph

“Our first and highest duty is to our supernatural laws that put the environment First which have always called for balance, harmony and sustainable practices. We cannot continue to desecrate our natural surroundings at the behest of profit.”

For more information contact:

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President 250-490-5314

Chief Victor Isaac, ‘Namgis First Nation 250-974-3509

Chief Rick Johnson, KHFN 250-974-8288

Hereditary Chief Dr. Robert Joseph 604-355-4826

Hereditary Chief Don Svanvik, ‘Namgis First Nation 250-974-7506

Chief Wayne Sparrow, Musqueam First Nation 604-652-2599