Sep. 2, 2017 – Updated Sep. 8, 2017
ALERT BAY, B.C. - On Friday September 1st, one week ago today, senior management at Marine Harvest Canada met with leadership of ‘Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay, British Columbia (B.C.) to try to resolve the Nation’s protest of the company’s Swanson Island salmon farm. While both parties explained their positions, the ‘Namgis First Nation would not engage with Marine Harvest about its farming activities, rather wishing to discuss issues related to rights and title with B.C. and Canada. Discussions about Aboriginal rights and title are well outside the purview of the companies operating fish farms.
Nevertheless, "Marine Harvest remains committed, open, and willing to engage in meaningful dialogue with neighbours, First Nations, "and others with interest in our business of salmon farming," says Ian Roberts, Director of Public Affairs, Marine Harvest Canada.
The company is becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of the protesters camping on its salmon farms, and has requested they leave the workplace. Health and safety concerns include: fire risk of gas and electrical cables, lack of safety gear (personal floatation devices), sleeping on floating structures at night, inclement weather, and risk of injury from heavy-duty machinery.
A coterie of protestors have been hovering at or near the MHC worksites since late July, several protesters coordinated by the Sea Shepherd activist organization entered several of the company’s private worksites, ignored biosecurity and safety protocols, and intimidated employees. On August 24 (Swanson site) and then again on August 31 (Wicklow site), two small groups of protesters constructed make-shift camps on the company’s floating fish cages and have refused to leave.
The protesters, including (the usual suspects) known activists such as Alexandra Morton and Chief Bob Chamberlin of Gilford Island Band (which falls somewhat within the Namgis Nation), have requested the Province of B.C. revoke the two salmon farm tenures. Swanson Island salmon farm tenure and aquaculture license were issued in 1990, and the farm operates with licenses granted by the Province of B.C. and Canada. Wicklow salmon farm tenure and aquaculture license were issued in 1989, and the farm operates with licenses granted by the Province of B.C. and Canada.
In fact the current Provincial tenure licenses were granted in 2013, after five years of consultation with several First Nation groups who claim interest in the region. Over the past decade, Marine Harvest Canada has collaborated with the ‘Namgis First Nation on science projects, has supplied juvenile salmon to the Nation-owned land-based salmon farm called KUTERRA, whose tagline is 'Land raised sustainable Atlantic salmon.' The Namgis say, "We've proven you can do it," raising salmon on land, but whose enterprise is proving financially non-viable. In spite of ongoing controversy MHC continues to seek regular dialogue with this Nation centred on Cormorant Island at Alert Bay.
Marine Harvest Canada states that it has a proven track record of collaboration with First Nation partners – with some agreements dating back 20 years. The company operates within the traditional territories of 24 First Nations and has formal agreements and positive relationships with 15 of these Nations and six First Nation-owned businesses. Marine Harvest Canada is one of the region’s largest private employers, with over 550 employees dedicated to raising and processing fresh salmon. About 20% of the workforce is First Nation descent.
Vincent Erenst, Managing Director, Marine Harvest Canada, says, “I’m disappointed that after meeting with the leadership of the ‘Namgis First Nation we were unable to find a path toward resolution. However, Marine Harvest is always willing to speak to the ‘Namgis or other interested parties about our business, to try and respond to concerns or questions, and to find benefit for both parties. While we often have people visit our sites to observe our operations and learn more about our business, we ask that they follow strict health and safety protocols. Our employees have been very patient and have tolerated ongoing trespass and nuisance at their workplaces this past month, but we continue to insist that the uninvited visitors leave.”
Roberts says, “Given the opportunity for dialogue, we would appreciate hearing the concerns of the ‘Namgis First Nation about our business. We are committed to finding solutions that work for both parties, and to sharing third-party confirmation that our salmon farms operate responsibly and are achieving world leading eco-certification standards.”