FISH FARM TENURES AND WILD SALMON PROTECTION
A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
Under previous governments, open-net fish farms were approved within First Nation territories without adequate consultation or consent, yet our present government claims it’s committed to reconciliation. In Alert Bay, the ’Namgis Nation have lost their once prolific salmon runs. They desperately want fish farms removed from their waters. They’ve been occupying Marine Harvest fish farms since August.
The Swanson fish farm is currently empty, and its tenure is up for review this spring. Yesterday we received notice from the ’Namgis Nation that they believe that Marine Harvest has made final preparations to restock the Swanson farm. The fish food has been delivered, they say, and the bird nets are now in place. They believe that the restock could happen as early as today.
My question to the Minister of Agriculture is this. If Marine Harvest is pumping new smolts into those pens, how will that impact the government’s assessment of their tenure status come June?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Wild salmon are a fundamental part of who we are in B.C. — socially, economically, environmentally, First Nations and non–First Nations alike. The member knows that the old government oversaw declining salmon stocks along our coast. Instead of responding to concerns about fish farms, they pushed the issue aside.
Our government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 great jobs that depend on those stocks. We’re working with First Nations, building a new relationship based on partnership and respect, and we’ve started a path forward with First Nations.
The Leader of the Third Party mentions the ’Namgis First Nation. On January 30, four cabinet ministers had an extensive meeting with the five First Nations who have the most interest in the fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. It was a good meeting, with good dialogue. It was based on the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples principles. We’re planning a follow-up meeting based on a mutually agreed-upon process in a government-to-government manner.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
A. Weaver: Now, I recognize that this is not answer period, but that was so far from the question I’d actually posed. I would have thought we’d get some semblance of a response to a very important issue.
When we reviewed correspondence between DFO and the B.C. government with respect to the steelhead issue, which my colleague raised yesterday and the day before, it was clear that nobody knows who’s on first base with respect to dealing with salmon in British Columbia. And that answer…. We deserve much better in this House.
Alert Bay isn’t the only community where people are worried about open-net fish farms. It’s widely recognized as being a key issue within the web of threats facing our wild salmon populations. We’re beginning to see other jurisdictions, like Washington, take steps. Legislation, unfortunately, didn’t pass but was tabled to actually ban new salmon farms and issuing of new licences in Washington state.
The B.C. NDP have explicitly said that keeping farm sites out of important salmon migration routes is critical. In fact, the member for North Island made a promise to the ’Namgis Nation where she reiterated, in the nation’s big house, that the main reason they should vote B.C. NDP in the last election was to ensure that the fish farms got out of the wild migratory routes of sockeye salmon.
My question to the Minister of Agriculture, who actually grants the tenures, not the Minister of FLNRO….
A. Weaver: Is it FLNRO? Okay. We’ll do FLNRO. I thank the former minister. Maybe my question should be to the former Minister of Agriculture.
The minister has the Advisory Council on Finfish Aquaculture report. When will the government remove farm sites from the wild migration routes of salmon, which they promised they would do and told British Columbians that they needed to elect them to ensure this would happen?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you, I suppose, for that lengthy question. I’ll address the overall issue.
The overall issue is that we’re proceeding with a shared decision-making process with the five First Nations, not just one First Nation, who are concerned about fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. That shared decision-making process incorporates the principle of consent and a government-to-government approach.
That’s the way that we’ll be proceeding. To unilaterally make a declaration in this chamber around the concerns of one First Nation is not the way this government proceeds. We proceed in partnership with First Nations, involving discussions from the start. That’s the way we’ll get to reconciliation in this province.