By Lloyd Dolha
A flotilla of canoes from four lower mainland First Nations will paddle down the Fraser River from Hope to Vancouver in late October to raise public awareness and support for bringing an end to the widespread practice of open-net salmon farming in the province’s coastal waters. Chiefs and leaders from the Sto:lo Nation, Squamish Nation, the Cowichan Tribes, and the Musgamagw-Tsawataink Tribal Council have committed to “Paddle for Wild Salmon.” The journey begins October 20th and lasts until the 25th.
Among those taking part in the protest paddle are Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) president Chief Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief Clarence Pennier of the Sto:lo, Chief Bob Chamberlin, Chief Marilyn Baptiste, Ernie Crey, and others. Outspoken marine biologist Alexandria Morton, long-time opponent of open-net fish farms, will also join them. Her studies of fish farming have demonstrated the devastating impact of sea lice from fish farms on wild salmon stocks.
The flotilla’s October 25th arrival coincides with the opening day of evidentiary hearings for the Cohen Commission of Inquiry regarding the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks. “We call on all First Nations to join us on the Paddle for Wild Salmon,” said Chief Stewart Phillip. “We all need to pull together to explicitly demonstrate to government, industry, and the Cohen Commission that wild salmon comes first.”
First Nations along the route are expected to add their canoes to a growing armada of support, with events planned at some communities along the way. Elana Edwards, one of the event’s organizers, said the Paddle for Wild Salmon is about recognizing the need for all British Columbians to pull together in defense of wild salmon stocks. She noted that these days, a run of 12 million returning salmon is considered good, though runs historically reached upward of 92 million. “We need to do whatever it takes to give wild salmon a chance to recover,” said Edwards. “First Nations, fisherman, and communities up and down the Fraser River and along the BC coast are all in the same boat, whatever our differences, pulling together for wild salmon.”
Darren Blaney of the Vancouver Island Homalco First Nation will lead a separate canoe team across the Salish Sea (Strait of Juan de Fuca) to join paddlers in Vancouver, hoping to attract other paddlers from Victoria, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, the Sunshine Coast, and Washington.
Kayakers from the Pipedreams Project will leave Kitamat on September 1st to join the Paddle for Wild Salmon armada in Vancouver.
The Cohen Commission was established in November 2009 and has already undertaken an ambitious scientific research project this summer and held hearings in affected communities. This year was the first time a commercial sockeye fishery was opened in four years with anywhere from seven to 11 million sockeye expected to return. Last year, fewer than 1.5 million returned. “We are at a crossroads when it comes to wild salmon in BC,” said Sto:lo leader Clarence Pennier. “Hopefully the paddle will bring more awareness to the plight of wild salmon.” Pennier said he hopes the event will generate public support for wild salmon and force industry to switch to land-based fish farms.