British Columbia

Court orders end to occupation of B.C. fish farm, pending hearing

Several people have been occupying Marine Harvest Canada's aquaculture site on Midsummer Island, east of Port Hardy in the Broughton Archipelago, for more than two months.

Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw and 'Namgis members have occupied site for more than 2 months

Fish farm protesters vacate Marine Harvest's Midsummer Island farm in response to the company's application for an injunction in November 2017. (Marine Harvest Canada)

First Nation demonstrators at a B.C. fish farm are leaving — at least for now.

Several Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw and Namgis members have been occupying Marine Harvest Canada's aquaculture site on Midsummer Island for more than two months.

The fish farm is one of several in the Broughton Archipelago, east of Port Hardy.

The demonstrators say they are concerned fish farms are hurting wild salmon in the area. They also say the aquaculture operations do not have permission to operate in their traditional territory.

Marine Harvest is seeking an injunction to remove the protesters, citing safety concerns.

The matter was adjourned Tuesday, so the demonstrators have time to put together a response.

But, in the meantime, they have been ordered to leave the site.

'Legal right to protest'

Ernest Alfred, a traditional leader from the 'Namgis, Tlowitsis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, was at Tuesday's court hearing.

He says the demonstrators have agreed to leave, and structures that were placed on the walkaways of the fish farm are being removed.

But Alfred says they plan to mount a vigorous argument for why they should be able to return to the site when the matter returns to court next month.

"Our people have a legal right to protest this industry which is operating in our waters," he said.

"Our position has been very clear that we are not interested in working things out with Marine Harvest. The demand is very simple: they need to pack up and leave."

Indigenous rights and title

Marine Harvest says the application for an injunction came after repeated efforts to seek dialogue with local First Nation leaders.

The company also says it has formal agreements in place with 15 of the 24 nations in the territories where it has aquaculture operations.

"First Nation leadership has made it clear to us their issue is primarily about Indigenous rights and title," Vincent Erenst, managing director at Marine Harvest Canada, said in a statement.

"This important government-to-government discussion needs to occur so our business and many other businesses in the Province have clarity about this process."

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said last month that she plans to bring together industry, First Nations and federal officials to discuss the rising tensions around fish farms.

Her office says no date has been set for that meeting.