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First Nations groups wants Mowi site closed after salmon escape

Two First Nations have asked the British Columbia provincial government to close Norway-based salmon farmer Mowi’s Shaw Point site after 1,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into territorial waters in May.

On June 18 – three days before Canada celebrated its National Indigenous Peoples Day –chiefs from the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Nations said in a statement they had written a letter June 9 to BC provincial government asking it to cancel Mowi’s ability to operate on the site. The letter said Mowi delayed notifying the nations about the escape.

“That site no longer has our consent to operate within our core territory,” said We Wai Kai Chief Brian Assu.

A broken system

Assu said the First Nations, which are working on a structure for their own finfish aquaculture regulations in the territories, have not made headway through BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP), or through Canada’s DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) on the issue.

In 2019, BC signed UNDRIP into provincial law. UNDRIP is a comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples that sets out basic human rights within an indigenous context, but is not yet Canadian law.

The letter said the province “has failed to engage substantively” when it comes to working with theWe Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Nations.

“We have tried to build on the work done by Nations in the Broughton Archipelago and negotiate a decision-making agreement that is based on the best science, the best data and the knowledge that our communities have,” said We Wai Kum Chief Christ Roberts. “But we need BC to be a partner in this.”

Both Cermaq Canada and Mowi Canada West already have reached agreements with the Broughton, British Columbia, First Nations to establish First Nations oversight of fish farms in their territories following the 2018 passage of a historic First Nations Broughton agreement.

“The system is broken,” said Assu. “We cannot stand by and wait for BC to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, or for DFO to protect our vital resource.”

Mowi confirmed in an email a hole was discovered in a net at its Shaw Point farm on May 24, which resulted in the escape of 1,000 juvenile salmon, the National Observer recently reported.

The company added “it has reached out to the nations to meet, review the incident and move forward in a collaborative manner,” according to the news site.