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Frustrated B.C. chiefs unload on cabinet ministers over fate of salmon

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2022-06-04 Derrick Penner
Shackan Chief Arnold Lampreau says its time to sue governments over the disappearance of salmon. © Provided by Vancouver Sun Shackan Chief Arnold Lampreau says its time to sue governments over the disappearance of salmon.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs’ leadership pushed federal and provincial cabinet ministers on Friday for more urgent action on salmon conservation.

Among their demands was progress on Ottawa’s contentious promise to remove open-net salmon farms from the waters of the Discovery Islands off the coast of central Vancouver Island.

Chiefs attending the UBCIC Chiefs Council meeting said dwindling salmon runs have hit their communities hard. People haven’t been able to fish in recent years and have resorted to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy salmon from Alaska for food, ceremonial and social purposes.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, chair of the group Wild First, said there likely isn’t a single healthy salmon run on the Fraser River, underlining the state of crisis and argue for quicker action to remove farms from the Discovery Islands, which is in the migration path of most Fraser River salmon runs.

Chamberlin said “both the federal and provincial governments have made very public statements about working with First Nations on the transition of fish farms and the rehabilitation and rebuilding of salmon runs,” but have so far limited that participation to technical groups.

Chamberlin said First Nations need to work harder at engaging ministers at the political level, because technical staff, particularly at Fisheries and Oceans Canada are “hiding science, they’re misreading science,” when it comes to briefing ministers on risks posed by salmon farms.

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray said acting on the federal promise to get salmon farms out of the ocean is complex, given a legal challenge by aquaculture companies seeking a judicial review and “there may just be some opposing views in this room as to how this transition should look.”

Murray, who appeared online as a guest at the Chiefs meeting along with provincial Resource Stewardship Minister Josie Osborne and Fin Donnelly, a provincial parliamentary secretary, said sustainable aquaculture has a role to play in “feeding a hungry planet.”

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“However, the growth of this industry cannot come at the expense of wild salmon or the health of local marine environments,” Murray said.

Murray added government has made salmon conservation “a top priority,” with its $647-million commitment to the Pacific salmon strategy initiative, which she promised will be undertaken with traditional Indigenous knowledge in planning and decision making.

Chiefs expressed frustration at social impact that dwindling salmon stocks are having on communities that can no longer engage in traditional fisheries.


“We’re basically subsidizing the failure of you to ensure that we have access to our food, social and ceremonial use, and to this we are doing so on the lowest possible denominator,” said Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band.

Federal authorities need to start justifying their infringements on Aboriginal rights by not protecting salmon, Louis said, with recent court decisions putting conditions beyond “the age of consultation and accommodation, with those decisions, we’re now in the age of damages.

“And this is considerable,” Louis added, referring to the impact of decisions such as the B.C. Supreme Court’s Yahey decision, which deemed the Blueberry River First Nation’s Treaty 8 rights were infringed by the cumulative impacts of industrial development.


Chief Arnie Lampreau of the Shackan First Nation talked about spending money for the first time last year — $750,000 — to buy fish for eight Shackan communities, when he could recall being able to fish for ample salmon at their doorsteps decades ago.

Lampreau said he could recall having the same conversations about the need to protect wild salmon when he sat on fisheries committees in the early 2000s, and “the only thing that has changed is that we have less fish in our rivers.”

“I see that we need to take these guys to court,” Lampreau said. “Let’s not sit around waiting here before it’s too late. If I’ve got to pay $750,000 a year to buy fish for my people, I’m going to spend that much money in court when our families can no longer go down to the river and fish freely to exercise their rights.”


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