B.C. First Nations to Decide Fate of Open Net-Pen Feedlots

Three First Nations in British Columbia will decide the fate of feedlots operating in their territories later this year – only months after learning the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) suppressed research into a virus threatening wild salmon populations.

Since 2019, the Broughton Aquaculture Transition Initiative (BATI) – a collaboration between ‘Namgis First Nation, Mamalilikulla First Nation and Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation – has sought to restore wild salmon populations in B.C.’s Broughton Archipelago.

The three First Nations agreed with the Province of British Columbia to create a migration corridor for Pacific salmon that is free of open-net feedlots. Since BATI’s formation, five feedlots have been decommissioned and another five will be removed by the end of this year. Over the next 18 months, those three First Nations will have final say on whether the remaining seven feedlots in their territories will stay beyond 2023.

That decision will come in the wake of recent news that DFO had been covering up research warning that open-net feedlots were spreading a lethal virus to wild salmon populations in B.C. DFO had unlawfully kept the report secret for almost 10 years.

“For 10 years, DFO has had reliable information about the harm that these viruses may cause wild salmon, which we could have used to protect these dwindling stocks,” ‘Namgis First Nation Chief Don Svanvik said in a statement. “The Government of Canada says it wants to act like our partner but holding back this important information is not something a partner would do.”

‘Namgis has gone toe to toe with DFO before. In 2019, the Nation won a judicial review that found DFO erred in its decision not to test Atlantic salmon for Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) before allowing companies to stock their feedlots – and breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis on the matter. ‘Namgis helped form BATI later that year, working alongside scientists and academics to restore wild salmon populations.

“We have worked very hard to understand the ways that the feedlots in our territories can affect the wild Pacific salmon populations and the health of the ecosystem, including big investments in science and monitoring programs,” Svanvik said.

‘Namgis owns Kuterra, a land-based fish farm that raises Atlantic salmon – proving that fish can be farmed sustainably on land. The Nation is also a vocal supporter of Wild First – the organization that succeeded in obtaining a copy of DFO’s secret report after filing a complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada.

Vancouver lawyer Sean Jones has been counsel to ‘Namgis on a number of matters, including its successful case against DFO in Federal Court and the formation of BATI. He also acted for Wild First, an organization supported by more than 100 First Nations in B.C., in obtaining a copy of DFO’s suppressed report. We are pleased to see ‘Namgis and Wild First succeed in their important work to protect B.C.’s wild salmon. We’ll keep you up to date on future developments in this space.