The B.C. government says starting in 2022 all West Coast fish farms will have to have First Nations approval before their tenure is renewed.
“This new approach will enable us to advance toward reconciliation with our First Nations, protect wild salmon and strengthen our coastal communities,” said Agriculture Minister Lana Popham Wednesday in Victoria.
Under the new regulations, all fish farms will have to meet two criteria when their tenures come up for renewal or when they apply for a new tenure.
First, any applications will have to demonstrate they have agreements in place with First Nation in whose territories they propose to operate.
When asked what that would look like, Popham said it will be up to industry and First Nations to come together and determine what those agreements will be.
“I’m not going to speak on behalf of First Nations. We have set up the framework for that to be done,” said Popham.
In the case of overlapping First Nations territorial clams it will still be up to the applicants to demonstrate agreements are in place.
They must also satisfy the federal government their operations will not impact wild salmon stocks.
Again, Popham said it will be up to the federal government to determine what that assurance will look like.
Contentious tenures get 4 years.
The announcement comes on the same day the tenures for 20 controversial fish farms in the Broughton Archepelago expire.
First Nations in the region have been fighting hard to have them shut down, saying they are a threat to wild salmon that migrate through the area.
Those farms will remain outside the new framework while government-to-government discussion about them continue. In the meantime, the B.C. government will renew those tenures on a month-to-month basis
Tenure for five other fish farms that expire before the 2022 deadline will also be renewed on a month-to-month basis until the deadline.
After then, all fish farm will have to demonstrate they have First Nations support, if they wish to renew an existing licence or apply for a new one.
In total, there are 120 tenures on the West Coast that expire at various times over the next 28 years.
‘Four years too late’
B.C. First Nations leaders are reacting to news with some concerns.
“I believe the four-year time frame is four years too late,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs.
“What I am pleased with is we now have a government that recognizes the value of wild salmon, not just to First Nations people but to the economy of British Columbia.”
But Chamberlin says the move is a big step toward implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“We are working very hard with this government because they have made this commitment to implement this declaration,” he said.
Industry already has some approvals
While some indigenous communities are calling for fish farms to be shut down, B.C. Salmon Farmers Association spokesman Shawn Hall says more than 75 per cent of the salmon they produce is already in partnership with local First Nations.
“We do work with a number of small businesses — family-owned businesses — up and down the coast that are owned by First Nations individuals,” said Hall before the announcement.
“About 20 per cent of the people who work for our industry are of First Nations heritage. So, for a lot of these small communities, salmon farming has become a major employer as other work has receded.”