Indigenous protesters occupy Marine Harvest salmon farm at Swanson Island, east of Port Hardy, August 2017. (Facebook)

LETTER: First Nations defending their waters

Response to Tom Fletcher from salmon farm occupiers

Re: Myths of the marine environment (B.C. Views column, Oct. 30).

Once again Tom Fletcher dons his armour and rides to the defence of his beloved fish farm industry. His weapons of choice this time?Let’s see, well, there’s the new minister of agriculture, who had the gall to suggest that farm licences may not in fact be eternal, should the government deem it in the public interest to cancel them. The horror! How could a government dare to, you know… govern?

He still goes on about the mysterious U.S. backers of all things environmental in this country, without naming them. He apparently believes that Canadians don’t care about their own environment. They’re goaded into protesting various “developments” by scheming Americans whose agenda is, seemingly, to preserve Canada for scenic photos.

Fletcher seems to be saying that Grand Chief Stewart Phillip shouldn’t attend a variety of protests. And he certainly shouldn’t associate with Alexandra Morton, whom Fletcher calls an “activist photographer,” whatever that is. I think it means she’s not into scenic photos.

Then he points to salmon hatcheries in the U.S., not explaining why they’re an issue, and the fact that some First Nations have made deals with the fish farm companies and get some employment that way. Here’s a question: if fish farms were sited on land, would they not still need staff? In any case, it turns out First Nations are not all of one mind on every issue. Who knew? And some people are working to restore damaged fish habitat in rivers. Well, that’s good.

Last but not least, Alexandra Morton is, allegedly, an admirer of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union. And Horgan’s chief of staff used to work for a union newspaper…. And then there’s Pamela Anderson, a favourite target of Tom’s contempt, and the occupiers picked a farm with cell reception. The plot thickens. It’s downright murky.

Fletcher moves on to the commercial fishery. I think he’s trying to say that it’s the reason the fish are disappearing. Is our domestic fleet guilty of overfishing? An argument could perhaps be made, but the Alaskan fishery is doing well, and their salmon runs are also doing well. Interestingly, they have no fish farms. Hatcheries, yes, but not farms. Hmmm.

All this is very interesting, but it fails to address the issue.

The issue, simply, is that open-net fish farming is a dirty, polluting industry. The sheer amount of fish poop under those farms means that nothing can live under them. Some of the feed inevitably gets wasted and falls through the nets, adding to the marine pollution, along with antibiotics and other drugs used to treat the fish and try to get rid of sea lice. Diseased fish risk infecting wild fish swimming by, and small wild fish, including endangered herring, get trapped in the nets when they’re attracted by the buffet.

The truth is, wild salmon runs are in crisis. No one really knows where they go once they leave our waters. Are they decimated by predation, our own commercial fishing fleet, the Asian commercial fishing fleet, lack of food, warmer waters, or… we don’t really know. What we do know is that diseases and sea lice population explosions follow the fish farm industry wherever it drops anchor. And we know that whatever else befalls the fish in the open ocean, it would surely help them to not have to run a gauntlet of disease, pollution and parasites on their migration route here at home.

The First Nations currently occupying fish farms have made it clear that they want these installations out of their territory. George Quocksister Jr., Hereditary Chief Gigame of the Laitchkwiltach Nation, followed proper protocol by securing a letter from Hereditary Chief Willie Moon inviting him into his territory to work on behalf of the Musgamagw people, and stating he must be treated with the utmost respect.

So, George was not strutting around “asserting his authority” where he didn’t belong. This is unlike the fish farm industry that is not invited or welcome into Chief Moon’s territory. Chief George Quocksister Jr. was simply doing work he was asked to do, and produced camera footage that shows the world tons of endangered herring get trapped in the open nets, and many of the farmed salmon have open sores, tumours, and deformities – all signs of diseases that can be passed onto wild salmon. Chief Quocksister Jr. is rightfully alarmed this has been going on at all the fish farms for the past 30 years.

The Namgis, Musgamagw and Malilikala Nations are not claiming to speak for all coastal First Nations; they just want to rid their own waters of open net farms that threaten irreversible harm to their traditional foods. Tom needs to know that Indigenous nations all along the Fraser and Thompson rivers are in solidarity with the fish farm occupation, as well as many British Columbians from all backgrounds.

Eddie Gardner, President, Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance, Member of Skwah First Nation

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