‘BC Salmon Aquaculture Transition: Then & Now’ is the title of a new report released by the BC Salmon Farmers Association. In it, salmon farmers declare the indigenous-led transition plan as the future of salmon farming in British Columbia. In addition, the report also highlights how “the sector’s deep history of innovation” supports the federal government’s vision for BC aquaculture, reconciliation, food security, the blue economy, and climate-friendly protein production.
When the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) released a framework for discussion on the net pen transition plan for BC last summer, some tried to see it as a confrontation between indigenous people and salmon farmers. However, not only the latter have always stressed their respect for First Nations rights, but there are also tribal advocates of aquaculture, as Larry Johnson, President of Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood, and member of the CAIA Board of Directors, reminded us last fall. As this new report recognizes, the collaboration between them is critical.
“Working together with First Nations who are interested in aquaculture is essential to our future on the west coast”, says Diane Morrison, Board Chair of the BC Salmon Farmers Association and Managing Director of Mowi Canada West. “These principles will ensure we transition in a way that progressively minimizes interactions with wild salmon and be led by the First Nations in whose territories we operate”, she adds. As such, this proposed transition of the First Nations-led salmon farming sector is taking place simultaneously with the development of a new framework by DFO.
Six fundamental principles
The report now released by the BC Salmon Farmers Association suggests that, in order to be compatible with the industry’s vision for salmon farming within First Nations territories, these six fundamental principles should be followed: First Nations’ right to self-determination; reconciliation; governance; sustainable sector growth; alignment with federal initiatives; and trust and transparency.
According to BC salmon farmers, the Transition Plan must “fully recognize and support Indigenous rights to self-determination and the rights of First Nations to make informed decisions on matters that impact their territories”. Besides, it must also ensure continued opportunities for capacity building within the Nations and equitable economic opportunities, as well as establish a framework for long-term, enduring relationships. They also advocate a governance model based on a tripartite agreement (First Nations, federal and provincial governments) that also provides “a robust role in governance and oversight for Indigenous rights holders in whose territories the salmon farms operate”.
In their view, the Transition Plan should also support the creation of an attractive business environment that shows Canada’s commitment to advancing growth in sustainable salmon farming on BC’s coast, as well as support investment in innovative practices and technology, and other federal government priorities, especially the Climate Change Plan and the Blue Economy Strategy. Finally, they believe the plan should provide “clear communication processes and outlets, including engagement opportunities, that will help to foster a better understanding of the industry and create trust and transparency with local First Nations who have aquaculture within their territories, as well as First Nations who have an interest, and the broader Canadian public”.
Transition is not new
BC salmon farmers think that by working through these principles, the Transition Plan has the potential to create the level of business certainty required for the long-term stability of BC’s salmon farming sector and allow the sector to play an even greater role in the ongoing process of reconciliation in BC, community vitality and wild salmon restoration. According to them, the plan could also expand the sector’s ability to contribute to the success of Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy “by generating the magnitude of economic benefits, jobs, investment, and regional growth that will help to advance BC’s economy on a low-carbon, environmentally sustainable, climate-resilient, and competitive path forward”.
New ideas to continue something that is inherent to aquaculture in Brithis Columbia, adaptation. “Transition is not new to our sector”, says Brian Kingzett, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “Like all farmers, we have been transitioning for decades to adapt to changing conditions. We have been investing in and implementing cutting-edge technologies and innovations to improve our processes, and progressively minimize interactions with the surrounding marine environment, including wild salmon”.
Farmed salmon is not only BC’s top agricultural export but the highest-value fish product in the province, generating more than $1.2 billion for the provincial economy, and creating thousands of jobs. The BC Salmon Producers Association represents more than 60 companies and organizations along the fish aquaculture value chain in BC, and its members account for more than 95% of the annual provincial harvest of farmed salmon in British Columbia.