By Lloyd Dolha
A flotilla of 14 boats from the Bella Bella area comprised of First Nations, environmentalists and commercial fishermen damaged the construction site of an Atlantic salmon hatchery at Ocean Falls in protest of the expansion of fish farming on the BC central coast.
Approximately 60 protesters, largely from the Heiltsuk First Nation, the Nuxalk First Nation and the Forest Action Network (FAN), arrived by boat to demonstrate their opposition to fish farming when some forty of the protesters tore open the gate to the Omega Salmon Group’s fish hatchery construction site and tore down the wooden forms for concrete foundations.
The Omega hatchery at Ocean Falls, the site of a traditional Heiltsik village formerly known as Laig, is considered by many to be the symbolic beginning to the expansion of fish farming on the BC coast.
The 20 fish farms operating in the Broughton Archipelago on the northern tip of Vancouver Island near Alert Bay have been blamed for virtually wiping out the pink salmon run of the area in a recent scientific study.
“That is an infringement on our hereditary and inherent right of our people when others come into our land and develop commercial ventures that destroy the Nuxalk way of life,” stated hereditary Nuxalk head chief Nuximlaye at Bella Bella before the boats departed.
“The farmed salmon will introduce new disease to the natural stock and decimate them. It is like when small pox came into the valley and killed our people. Now they want to do the same to the salmon,” he said.
Protest to cage expansion
The Nuxalk were joined by the Heiltsuk First Nation to protest the expansion of open-net cage salmon aquaculture. The Heiltsuk are launching a court challenge to stop the expansion of fish farming.
They argue that recent case law compels the provincial government to adequately consult with First Nations prior to developments that may affect the interests of the First Nation such as issuing tenures in their traditional territory.
Clement Lam, a 35-year old member of the Forest Action Network, has been charged with mischief and will appear in court in Bella Bella on February 26.
“This protest is a symbol of how communities are losing patience with a government who is ignoring them and ignoring science while promoting dirty fish farming,” said Edward May, spokesperson for FAN. “As the destructive industry expands, inevitably the heat of protest will rise.”
In a related development, a Norwegian-based salmon farming multinational, Pacific National Aquaculture (PNA), has been charged with irresponsible fish farming practices.
PNA is charged with 17 counts of provincial fisheries laws relating to fish escapes. The charges involve three PNA farms in Clayoquot Sound, concerning incidents between August 2001 and February 2002.
The charges range from failure to prevent escapes, failure to report escapes, to unauthorized release of fish into tidal waters.
PNA operates sixteen sites that farm Atlantic salmon. Escaped Atlantic salmon has been found regularly in Clayoquot rivers for more than a decade. They have experienced several accidents in the last year.
These include an algae bloom that killed over 100,000 Atlantic salmon in August 2001. There have been outbreaks of Infectious Hemeopoetic Necrosis, a viral disease at two separate farms. In January 2002, more than 8,000 Atlantic salmon escaped due to storm damage.
PNA subsequently pled guilty to a series of eleven charges and was fined $25,000.