Sometimes in politics you have to demonstrate your people power, to show the government that there is public support to take action. With all salmon farm licences in British Columbia expiring on June 30th, now is the time to send a clear message: do not renew in ’22! To this end, Clayoquot Action hosted a wild salmon flotilla in Tofino recently.
We were sweating bullets, watching the weather forecast for May 7th. Finally the big day arrived—just as forecast: westerly winds gusting 40+ kilometres per hour. Not ideal for boating… But west coasters are nothing if not tenacious—the flotilla must go on!
Energy had been building for weeks, starting with a series of art builds in April. Community members gathered to create a huge floating banner, over sixty feet long with bright orange letters seven feet high. The message could not be more clear: FISH FARMS OUT! This was to be paired with dozens of hand-held signs calling on Minister Joyce Murray to not renew salmon farm licences on June 30th.
Tenacious west coasters take to the sea!
Saturday was a beautiful May morning, but sure enough the winds began to rise. Anchoring the banner was a mighty feat, and boats began to arrive right on time. An intrepid pod of kayaks crossed the bay to join in. Local surf champion Catherine Bruhwiler paddled out with a couple of friends on paddleboards, to a chorus of cheers. The fleet began circling the banner, while I scanned the horizon, anxiously awaiting the helicopter carrying our photographer.
It was powerful to be taking action with so many others, especially after two years of restrictions. As it was too windy for speeches on the water, flotilla co-host Chris Seitcher of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation suggested we circle up in town.
What unfolded next was an incredible thing to witness. Terry Dorward of Tla-o-qui-aht MC’ed the gathering. Visiting chiefs were welcomed and honoured with an exchange of gifts. Speaker after speaker shared concerns about the impacts salmon farming is having on wild salmon.
Indigenous actions against salmon farming
Dorward spoke of the many years of action taken by members of Tla-o-qui-aht, from crossing the Salish Sea in a cedar dugout to join Alexandra Morton’s Paddle for Wild Salmon back in 2010, to boarding Creative Salmon’s farms with GoPro cameras in 2019 to capture the first-ever images of juvenile wild salmon trapped inside a fish farm. He stated “…governments have lied to us. They said that the foreign pathogens that were being spread by fish farms weren’t going to impact wild salmon—but they did…”.
Tsahaukuse (George Quocksister Jr), a Hereditary Chief of the Laichwiltach Nation also spoke. George teamed up with Sea Shepherd in 2017 to board forty fish farms north of Campbell River, and capture underwater footage of disfigured farmed fish and trapped wild herring. His images sparked an uprising.
Ernest Alfred, a councillor from ‘Namgis First Nation and hereditary chief with the Tlowitsis First Nation, occupied the Swanson Island salmon farm for most of a year in 2017-18. Shortly thereafter, the BC government signed an agreement with First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago to allow closure of salmon farms. Ernest came with his family from Alert Bay, bringing a message of hope: “We came here to lend our voice of optimism. We’ve removed 32 fish farms so far. When we say we want the fish farms out, we’re saying it together”.
Do not renew in ’22!
Charles Fergus Billy came all the way from the St’át’imc Nation near Lillooet. His message: First Nations all the way up the Fraser River are opposed to open-net pen salmon farming on the coast. They are watching the wild salmon which sustained their Nations for millenia dwindle towards extinction.
Open-net pen salmon farming is a transboundary challenge. Wild salmon do not recognise borders, and salmon farming impacts in one territory can affect another territory. This is why Indigenous chiefs and leaders from across the coast came together to send a clear message to Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray: do not renew in ’22!
Now is the time to let her know you have her back, and want to see clear action to protect wild salmon from the harms caused by open-net pen salmon farming. We’ve made that easy with our new one-click phone tool—check it out!
Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.
Photos by Jérémy Mathieu and Sam Rose Phillips