Port Hardy fisherman James Walkus (left) works with salmon farms, Maurice Isaac manages Marine Harvest’s operation on Midsummer Island and Gary Hall is former Chief Councillor of the the Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation at Klemtu. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Port Hardy fisherman James Walkus (left) works with salmon farms, Maurice Isaac manages Marine Harvest’s operation on Midsummer Island and Gary Hall is former Chief Councillor of the the Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation at Klemtu. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Untold stories of B.C. salmon farms

Indigenous people defend their jobs against constant protests

I’ve been writing about salmon farming off and on for more than a decade, and was one of the first to report on the “de-marketing” campaign backed by U.S. charitable foundations that was revealed using U.S. tax records by former salmon farm employee Vivian Krause.

It’s been a propaganda parade, continuing this year with an occupation of two salmon arms off northern Vancouver Island and a sophisticated media campaign pressing unverified claims of viral contamination. Even B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, a long-time anti-aquaculture protester, jumped on the bandwagon.

Most media coverage has been led by protesters, this year including Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd Society, backed by celebrities Pamela Anderson and Martin Sheen. The target was Marine Harvest, one of a group of Norwegian companies that have raised Atlantic salmon on the B.C. coast for 30 years.

What is striking is not so much the lazy pack journalism, it’s the events that are not covered. A few recent examples:

• Marine Harvest paid the Heiltsuk First Nation for community support and employment training, and two days later Heiltsuk announced, on Twitter, it is terminating a hatchery agreement that took years to negotiate.

• Another long-time aquaculture operator, Cermaq, was invaded Dec. 2 by protesters who dived into a pen of adult salmon and grabbed some to hold up for fundraising visuals, claiming they were tainted by a diesel spill.

What is treated as news? A weeks-old “plastic bag spill” from a “fish farm” that is actually one of the most successful chinook salmon hatcheries on the West Coast.

What is not reported is that this hatchery has tripled the chinook smolt survival rate, providing more for chinook sports fishing and the primary diet of endangered orcas.

And what is seldom mentioned is the employment provided in remote regions by salmon farms, many of which have operating and employment arrangements with Indigenous communities for up to 30 years.

RELATED: B.C. salmon farm value growing rapidly

I spoke with three Indigenous salmon farm workers who visited the B.C. legislature in late November.

James Walkus (JW) is a Port Hardy fisherman, whose two boats are also used to move fish to processing for Marine Harvest.

Maurice Isaac (MI) is a Tlowitsis Nation member, site manager for Marine Harvest’s salmon farm at Midsummer Island, which was one of the protest targets.

Gary Hall (GH) is a former elected Chief Councillor of the Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation at Klemtu, which has a long-standing operating agreement with Marine Harvest. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

TF: What was the effect of the occupation?

JW: The disruption didn’t stall us at all. They were just kind of being a nuisance.

MI: They were at my site. They tried to block the offload of the last two loads of fish, so we suspended transfers of fish from one site to the other, in hopes to get some dialogue with First Nations and some agreements, so some positives come out of it. So we put it on hold and we’re going to resume at some point, moving the fish and stocking my site fully as planned.

TF: How many protesters were there at Midsummer at any one time?

MI: There were always at least three. At some points I’d say there were 20-plus. There were always people coming with supplies and food. In the summer they were just coming and hanging out, sitting on the cages. As soon as I started entering fish, they came and they would just wait all day to see if there was going to be an offload.

TF: Were these local people you recognized?

MI: The majority of them, I know who they are. There were some Americans [in mid-November], but I don’t know who they were. There was a ship from Vancouver called My Girl, nice big yacht, just hanging out. [My Girl is a 50-metre super-yacht built in Washington in 2016].

TF: Gary, what was your experience?

GH: I was hired by Marine Harvest to engage the community members. The community has actually been accepting. They know that I’ve been working with Marine Harvest. There are a few people who are distancing themselves from me, but I haven’t had any really negative feedback.

The only person who takes little jabs at me is actually not a First Nations person, and not from Alert Bay. He’s there documenting a totem pole that they’re doing. He’s from Belgium.

MI: Wayne Alfred.

JW: It’s micro-tourism. They’re going to build a little miniature village over there.

TF: There’s another guy named Ernest Alfred involved, is he related?

MI: Yes. I’m actually related to Ernest myself. So he says, anyway. The day he occupied Swanson Island, the first day he was there, I arrived there and he said, “hey, there’s my cousin Maurice.”

TF: He’s a hereditary chief?

MI: He’s the representative, he’s the lead guy. He’s not a negotiator. He’s stated that many times. He’s a bad representative of our people. He’s disrespectful.

TF: Licences for 18 Broughton Archipelago salmon farms are coming up for renewal by the province. Do you think you’re getting a fair assessment?

MI: I don’t feel it’s fair from their side. The protesters aren’t actually showing any real science and facts, other than some cherry-picked pictures that they spent hours and hours trying to capture.

TF: Nobody talks about commercial fishing. And it’s always the sockeye that are hit the hardest.

JW: In 2010, that was the second largest sockeye run in history.

TF: Right in the middle of the Cohen Commission [the 2010 federal inquiry that found a long-term decline of sockeye runs from Washington up to Alaska, including areas with no salmon farms].

JW: Then 2014 it was huge again.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

The Kimberley Nordic Club has outlined their plans for a safe season of winter sport amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Kimberley Nordic Centre.
Kimberley Nordic Club details plans for safe season of winter sport

The Kimberley Nordic Club has released their plan to re-open for the… Continue reading

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

(Black Press file photo)
RCMP seeking driver of burnt out car found on HaHa Creek Road

Cranbrook RCMP are looking for the driver of a vehicle that was found on fire Monday

Starting in January of 2021, the RDEK will be removing yellow bins designated for glass collections. East Kootenay residents will be able to recycle their glass at one of the many Recycle BC depots across the region. (RDEK file)
Changes coming to RDEK glass recycling program

Starting in January 2021, glass will no longer be collected through the yellow bin program

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

A man stands in the window of an upper floor condo in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Change made to insurance for B.C. condo owners amid rising premiums

Council CEO Janet Sinclair says the change will mean less price volatility

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Most Read