17 fish farms could all be phased out under new agreement between B.C. government, First Nations

The fish farms, in the Broughton Archipelago, could all be gone by 2023 under a new agreement between First Nations and the provincial government.

Farms in Broughton Archipelago could be gone by 2023

A bucket of salmon is collected during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Seventeen open-pen fish farms in B.C.'s Broughton Archipelago could all be phased out by 2023 under a new agreement between First Nations and the provincial government, the premier announced Friday.

However, under the terms of the agreement, seven of the sites could be spared.

The plan includes room for aquaculture companies to come to agreements with First Nations to continue operations beyond 2023 at those seven sites, according to the province..

The decision is part of a set of recommendations reached through a government-to-government consultation between the province and the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis, 'Namgis and Mamalilikulla First Nations.

Premier John Horgan said the "orderly transition," beginning in 2019, will ensure economic certainty for the industry while working to protect the health of wild salmon in the archipelago — a key migratory route for wild salmon off northeastern Vancouver Island.

"The willingness to participate in nation-to-nation discussions by the Indigenous communities in the Broughton has allowed us to come to a place that I don't think anyone thought we would get to," he said.

The fish farms in the phase-out plan represent nearly all of the aquaculture sites in the region. Three other sites outside the territory of the First Nations involved are not included in the recommendations.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, elected chief councillor of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation, speaks to media following an announcement regarding fish farms in B.C. on Friday. Premier John Horgan, right, also made remarks. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The recommendations have also been agreed to by the two aquaculture companies that operate in the area: Cermaq Canada and Marine Harvest Canada.

The latter has run farms in the area for 30 years. In a statement, the company said "there are no changes to employment anticipated at this time."

Currently, there are up to 600 people working on fish farms in the Broughton area. Both companies said they don't expect major job losses, as they move production to other areas.

Seventeen fish farms off the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island will be phased out by 2023 under a new agreement between First Nations and the province, the premier announced Friday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The agreement also calls for the establishment of a "farm-free migration corridor" in the short term to help keep wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago area from harm.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, elected chief councillor of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation, described Friday's announcement as "critical to Canada's development."

"We are seeing a jointly defined government-First Nations process come to shared recommendations, shared recommendations going to First Nation and provincial decision makers, and shared decisions as an output," he said.

"And you will notice you did not hear the word veto."

The Broughton Archipelago, a group of remote islands and inlets near the northeast tip of Vancouver Island, is at the center of debate surrounding fish farms. (Chris Corday/CBC)

In a statement, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson said he and the Department of Fisheries "commend" the work put into the deal.

"We look forward to reviewing their recommendations regarding land tenures for existing aquaculture sites in the Broughton Archipelago and working with the province of B.C. and other parties going forward," Wilkinson said.

First Nations to lead inspection, monitoring

A First Nations-led monitoring and inspection process will also be developed to oversee the farms during the transition.

In June, the nations signed a letter of understanding with the province.

It laid out that decision-making power about the future of fish farm tenures and salmon aquaculture in the Broughton Archipelago will be shared between three First Nations and the provincial government.

About the Author

Megan Thomas

Reporter

Megan Thomas is a reporter for CBC in Victoria, B.C. She covers stories from around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Follow her on Twitter @meganTcbc.

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard