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October 17, 2017

Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario    K1A 0A6


Honourable Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture
Parliament Buildings, Victoria, British Columbia    V8V 1X4


Dear Ministers LeBlanc and Popham:




The First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance (FNWSA) is writing this letter to express our deep disappointment and frustration with the nature and pace of the federal and provincial government’s response to the continued assault on the survival and wellbeing of wild salmon, especially in relationship to open net cage Fish Farms. BC wild salmon numbers have been in steady decline over the past 25 years. This crisis, which has now reached a genuine state of emergency for wild salmon in the pacific region continues to progress at an alarming rate.


Although we raise a number of concerns in this letter, we also provide proposed solutions aimed at protecting wild salmon stocks and urge the federal and provincial governments to act upon such recommendations.


The steady decline of wild salmon has merited serious investigation by a Commission of Inquiry, the broader scientific community and most recently, nation-wide media coverage. On October 14, 2017, we had the opportunity to view, with great sadness, CTV’s W5 investigation into the state of wild salmon and activities of the fish farming industry on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island, in the Broughton Archipelago. Throughout the program, members of the Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw, Namgis and Mamalilikulla First Nations expressed their clear and fierce opposition to the presence of approximately 27 open-pen fish farms in their territories and their desire to see these farms removed from the open waters.


The FNWSA took note of the message conveyed by First Nations appearing on the program that the farms in their territories are operating without the free, prior and informed consent of the respective Nations and are an unwelcomed presence in the area. This is a powerful and important message that must be respected and addressed by other levels of government.


Despite those First Nations consistent and continued objection, fish farming operations continue to stock Atlantic salmon in the pacific region. Such fish are a foreign species to the West Coast, which is now subjected to roughly 109 licensed farms along the coast, producing millions of farmed salmon each year. On October 11, 2017, a historic meeting of over forty hereditary and elected leaders of the Mamalilikala, 'Namgis, Tlowitsis, Mamtagila, and Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw (Dzawada’enuxw, Kwiḵwas̱uti̓nuxw̱ ,

Hax̱ wa’mis and Gwawaenuk) and their citizens met with Premier Horgan and Ministers Fraser and Popham to discuss this growing crisis. The leadership and citizens delivered a united message that those Nations are in clear, unequivocal opposition to open-net fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. The leadership also reiterated that the fish farms in the territories continue to operate without the Nations’ free, prior and informed consent.


The FNWSA expresses its support for the messages conveyed by the impacted First Nations and call on the governments of Canada and British Columbia to uphold their respective legal and fiduciary obligations to the Nations, and the government’s commitments to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the UN Declaration). The FNWSA interprets the UN Declaration as an instrument identifying the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples and is of the view that the rights identified in the Declaration are not contingent on any approvals or other legislative instrument. Moreover, the Declaration provides a foundation for First Nations to be involved in any decision-making framework or process that pertain to their homelands and resources.


In this context, the FNWSA supports those First Nations’ confirmation that they have the absolute right to derive social, spiritual, cultural, political and economic structures from their lands and resources, consistent with the standards in the UN Declaration and with the constitutional protection of Aboriginal rights afforded by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In R. v. Simon, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged that the recognition of Aboriginal rights would be hollow and meaningless if Aboriginal people are prevented from exercising or practicing those rights. It is not sufficient to give protection to a right “without also giving protection to the means necessary to practice the right, to otherwise would render the right useless.” The First Nations noted above have expressed that the operations of the fish farms are impacting upon their traditional food sources, including salmon, herring and other sea foods.


Proposed solution: the FNWSA stresses the importance of avoiding rights ritualization and strongly urges the federal and provincial governments to actively engage with the impacted First Nations and to implement concrete, timely actions to address the concerns of the respective First Nations. As a first step, this may include the federal and provincial governments jointly hosting a round-table discussion with impacted First Nations to openly and transparently engage on First Nations concerns, challenges and to collectively and transparently seek solutions. This would be a clear demonstration of the government’s commitment to building a new government-to-government relationship with First Nations. 


As an alternative path forward, the FNWSA implores the federal and provincial government to explore and seek to support a transition to land-based salmon aquaculture operations. The FNWSA is mindful that Norway, the US and other countries are rapidly working to build land-based salmon aquaculture systems and transitioning from open-net pens. In BC, Mr. Eric Hobson, Chair of the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation and the ‘Namgis First Nation have partnered to form a venture, “Kuterra” which is the a closed-containment commercial salmon farm that operated in the homelands of the ‘Namgis Nation. We have the good fortune to build on the expertise gained by the Kuterra operation and become world leaders on this front, or we can wait for Norwegians, Americans and others to perfect the technology.


Our BC salmon aquaculture operations, of which the majority are owned by Norwegian companies, must act progressively. In this regard, we call on the federal and provincial governments to show strong, timely leadership and make this transition an operational requirement. Failing this, if Canada and BC continue to oppose or fail to support this transition, we ask that both levels of government make available the publication of any scientific or other rationale as the basis of justification for such a decision.


Proposed solution: remove open-net pen aquaculture salmon farms from the territories of the aforementioned First Nations where such operations are situated in close proximity to key wild salmon migration routes.


Proposed solution: immediately halt any expansion and any further considered citing of new open-net  farms and support the transition of the industry to land-based, closed-containment operations.


Proposed solution: Given that many of the provincial salmon farm tenures in the Broughton Archipelago are due to expire in June 2018. The Provincial NDP will then have to make the decision whether or not to renew those tenures, in an environment of firm opposition from local First Nations. The transition of salmon farms out of the ocean can begin with the refusal to renew the tenures in question.


In this regard, the FNWSA was troubled by the W5 program which featured comments offered by Dr. Gary Marty, a fish pathologist for the BC Ministry of Agriculture, which appear to express support for the continued growth of the salmon farming industry. This raises concerns about the neutrality of scientific advice. The FNWSA is of the view that it is highly problematic for an individual tasked with conducting pathology associated with regulatory activities and for providing scientific advice to government decision makers to then expressing support for growth of the industry.


Further, we would like to draw your attention to a particularly alarming segment in that the same program which suggested that Dr. Marty co-wrote scientific papers with individuals from the fish farming industry, and that he first spotted and reported fish heart abnormalities back in 2008. We encourage you to investigate this matter within your own respective governments and to publicly report on your findings. As you can appreciate, the lack of transparency in that instance is distressing and raises questions as to why the full extent, nature and severity of Dr. Marty’s critical findings were not made publically available when discovered, what was the motivation and objective in failing to reveal such findings. That segment was followed by an interview with Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard who stated that the Department would not approve more farm cites until it has scientific advice to justify it.


It is difficult to accept that such important decisions will be made, in part, upon reliance on the advice of scientists working closely with industry on scientific efforts and promoting its growth. In this context, we are reminded of the findings of an expert panel appointed by the Royal Society of Canada and the Cohen Commission of Inquiry which determined that the DFO may have a conflict of interest in so far as its mandate to promote the fish farm industry conflicts with its mandate to protect wild salmon and biodiversity.


Proposed Solution: Recommendation #3 of the Cohen Commission provides that the Government of Canada should remove from the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product. The FNWSA is of the view that it is imperative that the Minister and the DFO make every effort to avoid both real and perceived conflicts of interest, and ensure that their activities and duties are carried out in a manner that preserves and enhances the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity of the Department. This should include reflecting such efforts in DFO decisions, actions, policies, processes, and systems.


Lastly, in the spirit of advancing recommendations to support the governments in becoming world leaders in their responses to the crisis facing wild salmon, we draw your attention to the final report of the FNWSA 2016 dialogue session, “The Future of Wild Salmon: Advancing a Path Forward to Informed Management and Decision- Making”, which was provided to DFO November 2016 and BC Provincial Government October 2017.


On April 18-19, 2016, the FNWSA hosted a two-day strategic dialogue session in Vancouver, BC bringing together over 150 delegates including First Nations leadership, technical support, non-governmental organizations, academics and other participants to discuss the future of wild salmon. The session resulted in development of a BC First Nations-driven strategy directed at ensuring a sustainable stock of wild salmon. More specifically, the session’s final report contains 18 key recommendations for action.


Proposed solution: Carefully review and engage representatives of the FNWSA to create strategies to implement the 18 recommendations contained in the final report , which reflects the diverse ideas and perspectives that were shared at the session and highlights recommendations brought forward through presentations and discussion over the two-day session, to advance the goal of wild salmon forever.


In conclusion, it is our continued view that it is imperative for the Canadian Government to respect the “recognized and affirmed” constitution rights of First Nations and that appropriate legal instruments and mechanisms be developed, in conjunction with First Nations to protect and preserve wild salmon stocks. This is especially true in instances in which the government is considering development or revision of legislation, regulations or policies that have both direct and indirect impact on First Nations, our homelands and our resources.






[Original signed attached]


Chief Robert L. Chamberlin, First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, Chair




cc.        Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister

            Honourable John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia

Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada 

Honourable Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation