Photo Credit: TAVISH CAMPBELL / The Narwhal

Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations Versus Norwegian Corporation- Round Two

Grieg Seafoods tries sneaky tactic to get around recent fish farm closures

After getting Ottawa to phase out floating fish factories in the Discovery Islands and Broughton Archipelago, the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations face a new battle

VanIsle First Nations are playing whack-a-mole with foreign salmon farming corporations once again.

The latest battle launched when Grieg Seafood proposed a large new salmon farm at the mouth of Knight Inlet on BC’s coast. The Norwegian corporation’s proposal comes after First Nations in the area convinced the federal government to phase out salmon feedlots in the Discovery Islands and Broughton Archipelago.

Minstrel Island, where Greig is proposing a new feedlot at the mouth of Knight Inlet
Credit: Google maps

Because of concerns about disease transfer to dwindling wild salmon stocks, Ottawa shuttered 19 Atlantic salmon feedlots in the Discovery Islands last year. A further 17 salmon farms will need to be removed from the Broughton Archipelago by 2023.

Greig has partnered with the Tlowitsis First Nation, but fellow members of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations are slamming the proposal.

Ernest Alfred, elected councillor for ‘Namgis First Nation, said Grieg didn’t consult them. Alfred, who is also a hereditary chief, said the Tlowitsis, ‘Namgis and Mamalilikulla First Nations are against floating salmon feedlots in their territories. He said they spent years struggling to remove them from wild salmon migration routes immediately to the north and south.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to be removing all these farms and then to be adding one more in a disputed area,” Alfred told journalist Sarah Cox for a story in The Narwhal.

Chiefs from several Kwakwaka’wakw Nations, including Chief Alfred, voiced their opposition in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We are vehemently opposed to any fish farms within Kwakwaka’wakw territorial waters, and they are contrary to our way of life, culture and potlatch laws,” the letter says. “As hereditary chiefs of our nations, we vow to protect our food and sacred Awinakola, the land, sea and air we own. As keepers and stewards of the land, we find this application outside your nation’s jurisdiction.”

Grieg and the Tlowitsis First Nation are trying a sneaky approach to get around the federal government ban. Grieg is asking the Regional District of Mount Waddington to create a new zoning category called a “marine aquaculture zone.” Grieg would then apply for a permit under the new zoning for an 86-hectare area east of Minstrel Island.

Grieg, which also operates three floating fish factories in nearby Clio Channel and 22 throughout BC, has also applied to the federal government for an aquaculture licence.

Grieg is based in Bergen, Norway but operates farms in Norway, the United Kingdom and Canada. The company has battled outbreaks of infectious salmon anemia at its Norway farms. Recently, Greig has been under fire for leaking nearly 4,000 gallons of chlorine into a northern Norway fjord, killing approximately 96,000 fish.

Chief John Smith of the Tlowitsis First Nation hopes the partnership with Greig becomes an economic opportunity for the band. In an August 30th regional district hearing held by Zoom, he said the new farm will be key to rebuilding the finances and economy of his community.

The Tlowitsis Chief’s statements at the regional district Zoom meeting supporting Greig’s proposal ignore the scientific evidence linking salmon farms to the decline of wild salmon. “One of the things we are concerned about is that there’s just going to be no more wild stock. I don’t think we should cut our nose off to spite our face and take away fish farms as well. That would just be ridiculous.”

‘Namgis First Nation Chief Don Svanik disagreed, telling the regional district directors the evidence is clear; open-net pen fish farms harm wild salmon and the environment. 

“There’s nowhere on earth where they’ve been able to control sea lice,” he said. “There’s nowhere on earth where you can control disease … The open-net pen farms are a year-round host for sea lice and a year-round host for disease that would never be there in any other situation.”

Chief Alfred said Grieg‘s proposal infringes on his nation’s aboriginal rights and title. He also reminded the regional district that he and other Kwakwaka’wakw members occupied a fish farm on Swanson Island for more than 280 days. He said they’re prepared to do it again.

Last year, four of Grieg’s salmon factories in Nootka Sound had sea lice counts that far exceeded Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) standards. Between March and June, the DFO limit is three sea lice per fish.