British Columbia

Protesters vow to continue B.C. fish farm protest amid court action

A protester with the Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw said the group is concerned about what impact fish farms are having on wild salmon in the area.

Company says it resorted to court action due to concerns about safety of both staff and protesters

Marine Harvest operates over 30 fish farms in B.C., which employ over 500 people. (CBC News)

First Nations protesters at a salmon farm off the northern coast of Vancouver Island are vowing to stay, despite court action aimed at forcing them out.

Marine Harvest Canada, which runs the farm, has asked the B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction to remove protesters from its Midsummer Island farm, located about 50 kilometres east of Port Hardy in the Broughton Archipelago.

A hearing for the injunction is set for Tuesday morning.

Molina Dawson, a protester with the Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw, said the group is concerned about what impact fish farms are having on wild salmon in the area.

"Our culture is very much intertwined and reliant upon having these salmon and the rest of our wildlife. If we lose the salmon, we lose a huge part of our culture," she said.

Dawson and several others have been at the Midsummer Island farm for more than two months, and plan to stay until the company removes all of its fish from the territorial waters of local First Nations.

Salmon swim in an enclosure at the fish farm owned by Marine Harvest Canada on Swanson Island, near Alert Bay B.C. (Sea Sheperd Conservation Society/YouTube)

Spokesman Ian Roberts said the company has delayed its work at the farm in hopes of having discussions with the protesters.

"We were hoping for discussions with these First Nations people that have issues with our business, but to date they've granted no meeting whatsoever," he said.

"So we will have to continue to take care of our fish and our employees and hope in the future that dialogue starts so we can talk about long-term solutions."

Dawson said she personally has not heard from anyone at Marine Harvest, but would be open to a meeting.

Safety concerns for company

The company resorted to court action due to concerns about the safety of both staff and protesters, and about the welfare of the fish, Roberts said.

Structures have been built on the facility's narrow walkways, he said, making it difficult for employees to do their work.

"We've asked them to leave numerous times. Last week we demanded that they leave and given that they didn't leave our workspace, we've had to officially make application for a court order," he said.

Marine Harvest spokesman Ian Roberts says the company was granted a licence for the fish farm in 2013 after consultation with First Nations. (CBC News)

But Dawson said it doesn't make sense for the company to kick First Nations people off their traditional territory.

"We've done nothing wrong," she said. "We've tried to make sure everyone who comes on the farm is respectful. We haven't broken any laws. We're here respectfully."

The issue is also about Indigenous rights, Dawson added.

"We've never given consent for this industry to operate in our waters."

Licences granted in 2013

Marine Harvest said in a statement that its current tenure licences were granted in 2013 following five years of consultation with several First Nations with interests in the area.

Those licences are valid until June 2018.

It's important to discuss with First Nations who has rights to that area, Roberts said.

"We think that's a very important conversation that has to happen because businesses in British Columbia need clarity on the process," he said.

"We ask that the First Nations in this area be part of that process and voice their concerns around a table and not dangerously on our workspace."

People occupying the farm know the area well and are prepared for the risks, including those that come with rough winter weather, Dawson said.

"I'd say we're well prepared to stay there safely," she said.