Logan McMenamie, bishop of the diocese of British Columbia, is calling on the federal and B.C. governments to shut down fish-farming operations on traditional territories of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation, one of the province’s Indigenous peoples.
According to a press statement released by the diocese Tuesday, September 26, McMenamie travelled to Gilford Island, one of the islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland, to meet with the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw chief and council Sunday, September 24. He told them “the diocese of British Columbia honours the First Nations’ right to decide who enters their traditional territories,” and called on both the federal and provincial governments to revoke the permits of aquaculture companies operating on these territories.
Tensions between some Indigenous communities and fish farms in the area have been intensifying recently. In late summer, members of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw, ’Namgis and other First Nations occupied two fish farms belonging to Marine Harvest, a Norwegian fish farming company. The protesters say the fish-farming operations threaten wild fish stocks, and that the company never signed agreements with the Indigenous communities to operate fish farms on their traditional territories. They say they won’t leave until the company’s licenses to operate are revoked.
The provincial government grants companies the right to use Crown land, while the license to fish-farm is issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Marine Harvest says it is willing to “discuss a long-term solution” with Indigenous groups and is asking both levels of government to intervene in the dispute.
Some concerns about fish-farming were heightened this summer after pens holding an estimated 305,000 Atlantic salmon were damaged at a fish farm in the San Juan Islands, a Washington State island chain that faces Vancouver Island, allowing some of the fish to escape. Some people worry the presence of Atlantic salmon could threaten the existence of Pacific salmon native to the area, or that diseases could spread from farmed fish to wild stock.