Course:FRST370/How fish farming impacts access to traditionally harvested salmon and other marine resources for First Nations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

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Our case study examines how industrial fish farming impacts several First Nations communities’ rights to access and harvest marine resources on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. We will discuss issues of governance and tenure systems, rights to traditional land and water, affected and interested stakeholders, and the health of the marine environment and resources. The main conflict lies in the fact that the west coast of BC is an unceded territory, which means it was never formally given up by Indigenous Nations to the Crown by treaty, conquest, or through the passage of time. The absence of signed treaties between the BC First Nations governments and the colonial Canadian government results in conflicts surrounding jurisdiction over management of and access to the land, water, and resources. The federal Government of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans Canada controls the tenure system for spatial access and harvest of marine resources and the provincial government of BC has been a primary force involved in creating regulation around aquaculture and fisheries, while First Nations communities have relatively less power. Over the years, the marine resources traditionally accessed and used by First Nations communities have been developed into private commercial fisheries and aquaculture facilities, primarily for the farming of salmon. Despite that many of the farms are situated on traditional lands and waters of different First Nations groups, they are owned and operated by both local and multinational companies in agreement with the federal and provincial governments, many First Nations are given minimal control and opportunity to influence these farms. First Nations’ customary rights have been violated due to the access and use regulations imposed and the industrial techniques used by the fisheries that mismanage and cause high risks and harms to the marine environment and wild salmon populations. Due to an imbalance of rights and power and absence of constructive discussions that include all stakeholders involved, various economic, environmental, political, and social conflicts exist and are intensifying among First Nations, environmentalists, NGO’s, commercial fisheries, and the federal and provincial governments. First Nations' rights and the health and productivity of the marine environments are neglected and affected the most due to mismanagement, miscommunication, and prioritization of economic profits. Proper negotiations and agreements are needed to ensure that all stakeholders have an equal share of the decision making and management of the public marine resources. First Nations need to be given space to influence the future of the aquaculture industry. Traditional ecological knowledge could contribute to sustainable farming and harvesting methods for farmed and wild salmon, yet they continue to be barred from decision making processes of the Canadian provincial and federal governments.


Positionality Statement and Land Acknowledgement

We would like to start by framing our positionality. None of the students involved in writing this research paper is Indigenous, or a member of any of the First Nations or communities discussed in this paper. Our knowledge on these topics is limited to our personal understandings and interpretations of academic papers and news articles, which may or may not accurately reflect the view of the Nations and communities discussed, and therefore we do not claim to represent their values and ideas, but aim to discuss issues and conflicts represented in a body of primary research and other articles.

Additionally, we recognize that it is important and necessary to acknowledge that this research paper was completed at the University of British Columbia campus, which occupies the traditional, ancestral, and unceded (never ceded to the Crown) territories of the the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking ʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam, People of the River Grass) in what is known as Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Areas and First Nations of Focus

Our case study covers four main areas, each place is occupied by different First Nations communities. On the west coast of Vancouver Island, we will examine Clayoquot Sound which is inhabited by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Ahousaht First Nation, and Alert Bay inhabited by Namqis First Nation. On the central coast of BC, in the Great Bear Rainforest, we will examine Bella Bella which is inhabited by Heiltsuk First Nation, and Bella Coola inhabited by Nuxalk First Nation (Fig.1). These First Nation communities have been occupying the lands and harvesting salmon from the waters for their daily livelihood for thousands of years, and they have customary rights to traditional access and use of the marine resources.

Operating Fisheries

As seen in (Fig. 2), many fish farms are located along the coast of BC, some operate in open nets while others operate in closed containment. We will discuss in depth ‘Cermaq’ and ‘Creative Salmon', multinational salmon farming companies that operate open net farms along BC’s west coast including Clayoquot sound (Thomson, 2019), in addition to ‘Marine Harvests’, an open-net farm operating in Alert Bay (Peterson, 2018).

Figure 1: Google map view showing the locations of Clayoquot Sound, Alert Bay, Bella Bella, and Bella Coola on the North West Coast of BC. Retrieved from Google Maps
Figure 2: Hunter, J. (2018). Fish farms located on the west and central coast of British Columbia.

Tenure Arrangements

As discussed by Murray & King (2012), the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht is comprised of several different tenures, such as government owned land, provincial parks, private lands, and overlap with The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was established in 1970 and contains twenty-one Indian reserves which belong to seven different First Nations groups. Despite this, First nations involvement in the park was almost non-existent. After the 1990s, Parks Canada, the group that manages the National Parks, shifted from a state-managed Protected Area governance model to one that is more focused on co-operative management with the local affected stakeholder communities.

Tribal Parks Initiative

Two Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, Meares Island and Haa'uukimun, are within the traditional territories of the local Indigenous peoples, yet are divided up by a multitude of different tenures, private lands and government owned land, with no clear management structure to help define borders. In the 1980s, the Tla-o-qui-aht partnered with the Tribal Parks Initiative to help integrate the values of the Indigenous peoples into their traditional territories. They are responsible for the maintenance and development of the land, though the decisions as to what the Initiative will do is under the direction of the Indigenous peoples chief and council. Despite this, the Initiative is facing many challenges, such as the lack of jurisdictional clarity, reliance on local stakeholders for power over land, and lack of funding. Unlike other areas of Canada, most of British Columbia is unceded, which means there are no signed treaties. For comparison, one notable treaty signed by the government in relation to the rights of the First Nations was Treaty No. 8, which legally recognizes the rights of the First Nations and protects them, in exchange for providing the Crown certain benefits and resources from the land. The government of Canada and the provincial government of BC are responsible for the rights given to the First nations by Treaty No.8 and which are supposed to be protected and guaranteed.

Creative Salmon Agreement

In 1997 the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s council opposed aquaculture with a resolution to “not accept or renew any fish farm tenures or leases” in its territory. But three years later a temporary agreement was made with Creative Salmon to continue with its Chinook farm sites. With attention to burial sites near farms, whale habitat and other wildlife, septic tank handling as well as environmental assessments, a protocol agreement has developed between the two parties that now provides education and salmon enhancement opportunities to the Tla-o-qui-aht. Cermaq runs 14 fish farm sites in Ahousaht territory under an agreement made in 2002. This provides employment, habitat enhancement funds, economic development and scholarships to the First Nation. The agreement “respects claims for constitutionally-protected rights and title in farming areas,” according to a joint presentation given by Ahousaht members and Cermaq to the advisory panel.

Restrictions on Fishing

Mentioned in Desmarais & Wittman (2014) Nuu chah nulth Fisheries Case, Indigenous tribes challenged federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans restrictions on Indigenous commercial fisheries, affirming the nation’s right to implement fishing and harvesting strategies according to its own unique cultural, economic and ecological considerations. In addition, Bill C-45 reduced protections for millions of waterways and made it easier to force indigenous communities to surrender reserve land to extractive industries.

Administrative Arrangements

Lepofsky, D. & Caldwell, M. (2013) discuss the resource gathering and management strategies used by the local governments and their impacts on the indigenous communities and eco-systems, using ethnographic and archaeological data. Accurately defining the interaction with traditional people and their environments has been up for debate, due to their reliance on important or non-domesticated goods. There are also the different management practices in use, changing how plant and marine resources are harvested and their effects on the availability of said resource.

Management Systems

The four traditional management systems in focus are as follows: harvesting methods, enhancement strategies, worldviews and social relations, and tenure systems. Management actions aren’t limited to one category, one action can fit into two or more management systems. Harvesting methods are tied to the social and economic reasoning behind resource management, as well as the technologies and efficiency of harvesting said resources. Indigenous harvesting usually takes fewer resources with a lower efficiency, but this allows the resource to sustain itself and not get over-harvested, something which is a problem with more modern and efficient harvesting methods such as trawling nets. Enhancement strategies revolve around increasing the production of local environments to increase the amount of a certain resource available, or how often it may be harvested. One example of traditional enhancement strategies is the preservation of clam beds, only harvesting select clams to leave the others to grow to a more desirable size.

Tenure systems define ownership rights to land and their resources, to help cut back on harvesting local environments by those who aren’t permitted access. These claims were made in a variety of ways, ranging from territorial ownership and ownership through the proximity of sites to a particular group. Lastly, worldviews and social relations are a key point in Indigenous people’s resource management, they have a different view on the relation between humans and the land they live on, treating it with respect and only taking what they need to survive. Ambient fish traps had holes in them to purposely let fish escape when they weren’t in use, and certain rituals took place to encourage the return of resources in the following years. These management systems helped conserve many of the resources located on the northwest coast of North America, but bigger, more powerful stakeholders have been mismanaging those resources for more efficiency and products, leading to the danger of said resources being extinguished if not taken care of properly.

Organizing Tribal Parks and Park Reserves

Murray, G. & King, L. (2012) focus on the management of protected areas, more specifically the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The First Nations there are engaged in the British Columbia Treaty process, which has been around since 1993. British Columbia isn’t covered by formal treaties, and the First Nations tribes are looking to reach agreements with the provincial government of British Columbia and the federal government of Canada for more rights to land and sea. Since the 1930s, the local territories of the First Nations have been altered by the presence of logging and tourism, shifting some focus away from resource management to incorporate more tourism in the local economies. Involvement of the First Nations started in the 1980s with the new Meares Island Tribal Park, declared in association with the BC Supreme Court, placing it under an injunction until its aboriginal rights and titles were clarified. Despite this, First nations involvement in the park was almost non-existent. After the 1990s, Parks Canada, the group that manages the National Park, shifted from a state-managed Protected Area governance model to one that is more focused co-operative management with the local affected stakeholder communities.

Concerns over Decision Making

As Gerwing & Daniels (2006) point out, there have been plenty of concern over the government's decision processes and effects, primarily affecting First Nations, such as the BC provincial government's lifting the moratorium on new salmon aquaculture licenses without consulting First Nations or the promise of skills development in aqua-cultural practices leading to concerns over the loss of traditional harvesting skills. Any infusion of wealth into communities from increased employment could lead to increased alcoholism and drug abuse unless there are effective healing programs in place as a preventative measure. Integrated decision making would require more transparency and honesty from provincial and federal governments, though it is unclear if that goal will be reached in the foreseeable future.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected Stakeholders and Access to Traditional Marine Resources

Members of First Nations whose traditional territories are located on the coast and who use marine resources as part of their traditional food practices are affected by salmon aquaculture because it affects their access to traditional resources. Access is defined by Bennet et al (2018) as the ability to use and benefit from available marine resources or areas of the ocean or coast. Resource access is the ability to benefit from the harvest of living or non-living marine resources, not to be confused with availability, which refers to the physical presence of marine resources (Bennet et al 2018). Resource access is affected by declining populations of wild salmon and effects of farms on other marine life. As open-net farms cannot contain the chemicals and diseases within the borders of their facilities, wild salmon migrating nearby are highly exposed to the outflow of pesticides, pathogens,  and sea lice, which puts their survival at high risk. Spatial access is the ability to enter and use geographic areas of ocean and coast for various purposes (Bennet et al 2018), and is affected by the presence and physical space taken up by salmon aquaculture facilities, on traditional land and water. Therefore, various factors come into play and contribute in negatively affecting the First Nations, whose livelihood is strongly dependent on their rights to access healthy and abundant salmon populations.

Since the federal Government of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans Canada controls the tenure system for spatial access to marine resources, First Nations have relatively less power than the colonial government or fishing companies. As discussed by Bullock et al (2017), current tenure systems are rooted in colonial ideology; the central goals include retaining Crown ownership and control, and promoting industrial extraction of sellable resources from public lands. As Booth and Muir (2013) note, government regulations are not accommodating of aboriginal rights, ethics, values, culture, traditional practices, and culturally derived understanding of the land. Such conflicts marginalize the Indigenous communities’ identity and culture which in return further deepen the social barriers between the colonizers and Indigenous people.

Ahousaht First Nation - Clayoquot Sound

Ahousaht territory encompasses Clayoquot Sound, where fish farms owned by Cermaq operate. Ahousaht First Nation is actively engaged in the Salmon Aquaculture Industry -- explain the ways in which the First Nation is involved. This includes signed agreements-in-principle with Pacific National Aquaculture (Gerwing & McDaniels 2006). In 2014 Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations including Ahousaht to “fish and sell” all species in their territories (Bennet et a 2018). The website page for Ahousaht's Fisheries states that “The primary goal for Ahousaht's Fisheries department is to provide safe, reliable and sustainable fisheries in our seas and rivers for today and future generations.” Harmful impacts of fishing management such as the sea lice epidemic faced by Cermaq, and its use of dangerous chemical treatment are addressed by the Nation: “Ahousaht First Nation, in whose territory Cermaq operates, has put the company on notice to do better in their management of sea lice.” (Clayoqout Action 2019).

Nuxalk First Nation - Bella Coola

The Nuxalk Nation also had their share of protests against open-net farms. In 2003, they launched a boycott of Canada Safeway and Real Canadian Superstore to protest sale of farmed salmon, placing ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ stickers on packages of farmed salmon for sale in the store.” (Page, 2007). However, it is not just a relation of conflict, but of partnership too. The Nuxalk Fisheries office and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) help each other in the management, assessment, enumeration, monitoring of the resources, for the sake of enhancing the yearly salmon stocks within Nuxalk Territory (Nuxalk First Nation, 2019).  Nuxalk nation serves as a leading example when it comes to communication and collaboration, as there is an enforcement protocol that goes over the roles outlines for the DFO and the Nuxalk fisheries office (Nuxalk First Nation, 2019). Interactive meetings are held, and the Nuxalk community is involved in communicating the concerns relating to the fish farms  (Nuxalk First Nation, 2019). They seem to be doing better that other First Nation groups, but their role and power are still not as strong as they should be. Equal partnership should be achieved in order to ensure decision-making equality among all stakeholders.

Heiltsuk First Nation - Bella Bella

Heiltsuk territory encompasses 35,335 square kilometers of land on the coast of British Columbia (Moody-Humchitt & Slett 2015). This is partly located in Bella Bella. The Declaration of Heiltsuk Title & Rights (Moody-Humchitt & Slett 2015) affirms the continued existence of Heiltsuk title and their right as a Nation to exercise jurisdiction and management authority over their lands, as their ancestors exercised sovereign authority over their lands and waters for thousands of years. The source of title is from historic occupation and stewardship of the land, which predates and survives assertion of European sovereignty, and Heiltsuk government continues to exercise jurisdiction as owners of their territory and resources when engaging with other governments and industry partners seeking access to Heiltsuk lands and waters.

Heiltsuk Nation engages in opposing aquaculture through protest; in 2003 they led an ‘International Day of Protest’ taking place at Headquarters in multiple countries, against Omega’s Atlantic salmon hatchery at Ocean Falls (Page 2007). Haíɫcístut Reconciliation hosted a focus group in January 2019 to research views among the Nation members on fisheries and marine aquaculture within their territory.

Namgis First Nation - Alert Bay

Nagmis First Nation has a long history of fighting against open-net fish farms. After several failed attempts to contact the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, they have resorted to taking legal action (Petersen, 2018). Namgis Nation wanted the Minister to make it a requirement for Marine Harvests, an open-net farming company operating on Alert Bay, to test its juvenile salmon for piscine reovirus (PRV) before transferring them into pens, which are located in Namgis traditional territories (Petersen, 2018). However, policies of Fisheries and Oceans Canada do not require such testing (Petersen, 2018). Testing for this virus is crucial to the survival of wild salmon; if the farmed fish carry the PRV, wild salmon can easily become infected too. PRV causes heart and skeletal muscle diseases which weaken salmon’s ability to swim naturally, ultimately reducing their chances of evading predators and reaching their spawning grounds (Peterson, 2018). Conflict arises from the absence of discussions and communications between Namgis Nation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Marine Harvests. Namgis are being ignored and deprived of having the opportunity to contribute in the decision making. Namgis Nation resorted to legal actions to express their concerns, rather than being consulted by the stakeholders involved.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation - Clayoquot Sound

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has a signed protocol agreement with the company Creative Salmon, which establishes "guiding principles for Chinook salmon farming operations within the Haahuulthii (traditional territory) of the Tla-o-qui-aht Hawiih (Chiefs) near Tofino, BC" (Stewart & Masso 2014). This is discussed further in the section about Creative Salmon, below. At the same time, members of the nation express opposition against salmon fish farms through protests and movements aimed at raising awareness about the decline of wild salmon. Tla-o-qui-aht members involved in the protests speak about their care for the wild and farmed salmon, and believe that everyone has a moral obligation and responsibility to protect this valuable resources. In a protest that took place in June of 2019 in Tofino, Tsimka Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht member of First Nation and Tofino business owner said: “ we have a shared concern, a dream and a hope to see salmon farms removed and native salmon returned to our nation's rivers as strong as they once were...everywhere that salmon farms exists, the wild salmon are in decline...salmon are to be honored and recognized for the huge role they play in our home.” (O’malley, 2019). Her speech in front of the crowd of 150 supporters reveals a different perception of salmon than that held by commercial farms, a perception that honours and values salmon for its inherent value, and the crucial ecological and environmental contributions of salmon.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Government of Canada

The Government of Canada and governmental bodies such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada have a relatively high level of power in issues of aquaculture. Part V of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), determines that the Canadian state has ‘the authority and sovereign right to provide or limit access to resources and areas within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)’ (Bennet et al 2018). States have power to grant stakeholders and groups access to marine resources. Distribution of fishing and seafood harvesting allocations and licenses administered by the government significantly influences how benefits are distributed to coastal and indigenous communities (Bennet et al 2018).

The Government of Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The Government of Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s main objectives are to “support economic growth in the marine and fisheries sectors, and innovation in areas such as aquaculture and biotechnology” (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2019). This body of the government has a high level of relative power in fisheries issues as it is responsible for licensing all aquaculture facilities in British Columbia (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2019). For example, when Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) field team found that wild juvenile salmon faced fatal levels as a result of Cermaq’s Hydrolicer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not respond by shutting down Cermaq’s operations, instead allowing Cermaq to continue and citing a chance to work on developing an action plan to enforce better regulations to battle sea lice in the future (Thomson 2019).

Fishing Companies

Fishing companies are granted a high level of power in terms of access to marine resources, as Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s website describes that industry is the government’s priority in licensing, stating: ‘The aquaculture licence and conditions of licence are designed to ensure the sustainable operation and development of the aquaculture industry’. Over 90 percent of open-pen farmed Atlantic salmon on the British Columbia coast are controlled by three Norwegian companies (Desmarais & Wittman 2014). One of these is Cermaq, which operates in Clayoquot sound (Thomson 2019, Lewis 2019).


Cermaq has less power than Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but is granted a relatively high level of power relative to other stakeholder groups, as industry is a priority of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which allows Cermaq to continue despite findings that their sea lice infestations are devastating to wild Salmon populations (Thomas 2019). Do you mean 'Thomson 2019?]

According to Clayoquot Action (Lewis 2019), Cermaq fishery is failing to control sea lice in their open-pen farms. Cermaq initially used chemical means to deal with lice in 2018, but in 2019 federal regulations set a threshold for allowable pesticide levels. Now Cermaq uses a machine Hydrolicer, which not only causes some farm fished to die, it imposes high risks on wild populations. This is discussed further in the discussion section on sustainability.

Marine Harvest

Marine Harvest is a Norwegian company that operates an open-net salmon farm in Alert Bay. This is located in the territory of Namgis First Nation, who are opposed to the farm. Marine Harvest is a large corporation that was established by consolidating three smaller companies including Pan Fish, Marine Harvest, and Fjord Seafood in 2006. More aquaculture groups were acquired by Marine Harvest, which took the name Mowi in 2018. This large corporation provides one fifth of global demand for farm-raised Atlantic salmon (Mowi 2019). Their website states "At Mowi, we work with the ocean to produce nutritious, delicious and supreme-quality seafood"(Mowi 2019). The 'Sustainability' page of their website argues that aquaculture provides food security by bridging a gap caused by wild-capture fisheries under pressure, stating "At Mowi, we believe that by farming the ocean, we can sustainably produce healthy, nutritious and affordable food for society at large", though many would argue that 'farming the ocean' is unsustainable and causes pollution that impacts wild marine life populations, instead suggesting that fish-farming should be moved to land (Gerwing & McDaniels 2006, Lewis 2019, Thomson 2019).

Creative Salmon

Creative Salmon is a Canadian fishery that is located in Tofino, B.C. and operates in Clayoquot Sound B.C. In 2000, Creative Salmon made a temporary agreement with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s council to continue with its chinook farm sites, though the Nation was initially opposed to aquaculture and did not want to accept or renew any fish farm tenures or leases in its territory (Plummer 2018). Their website refers to Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation as "one of our most important neighbours and stakeholders", and describes that they were the first salmon farming company in British Columbia to establish a position for a full-time Aboriginal Liaison in 1998, and finalized a protocol agreement in 2014 which "establishes guiding principles for our farming operations within their traditional territory." Their website also describes their efforts to use natural and organic methods. In 1995, the company began to shift away from using antibiotics, effectively removing treatment of market fish with antibiotics in 2001, when they also created an Environmental Monitoring Program. While other farms discussed in this paper use Atlantic salmon, which could be considered an invasive species in the event that it escapes pens, Creative Salmon's website states "Chinook salmon is indigenous to the Pacific Ocean where Creative Salmon operates, so it is perfectly adapted to the conditions on our farms. Its natural tolerance to sea lice means that sea lice numbers are naturally low and our fish do not require treatment."

Clayoquot Salmon Investigation field team

This team followed up on the Hydrolicer’s trials in Clayoquot Sound and found that the lice numbers had increased at two of the salmon farms in 2019, and wild juvenile salmon faced fatal levels again, indicating that the treatment failed to achieve its intended outcomes.

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council

This is a not-for-profit society that provides supports and services to fourteen Nuu-chah-nulth Nations, including Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht which are focused on in this case study (Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council 2019).


Community Concerns and Food Sovereignty

Common issues arose in almost every interview by Gerwing & McDaniels (2006). These included questions of credibility of information about salmon farming, environmental consequences to wild salmon ecosystems, threats to traditional livelihoods, non fulfillment of governmental and industry obligations to consult with First Nations, economic development opportunities, and individual and community health, and safety. Interviewees stressed that the proximity of salmon farms to traditional sites for clam digging, wild salmon fishing, herring fishing, and seaweed collection could negatively affect traditional harvesting. Promises for development of aquaculture skills raised concern about loss of traditional harvesting skills. Loss of these harvesting skills negatively impacts food sovereignty, which centers around goals of strengthening community, livelihoods and social and environmental sustainability in the production, consumption and distribution of nutritious and culturally appropriate food (Desmarais & Wittman 2014). In this case, ‘culturally appropriate’ includes traditional diets and traditionally harvested marine foods. The food sovereignty movement aims toward equitable distribution of resources, which involves dismantling asymmetrical power relations, while incorporating respect for relationship to place and diversity, and the role of nature in food production (Desmarais & Wittman 2014). Asymmetrical power relations were brought up by community members interviewed by Gerwing & McDaniels (2006) who suggested that integrated decision making requires more transparency and honesty from provincial and federal governments, and were concerned that Provincial government lifted a 1995 moratorium in 2002 on new salmon aquaculture licenses without consulting First Nations.

Economic Issues

A paper by Gerwing & McDaniels (2006), discussed that while interviewed members of the Nations in Ahousaht, Alert Bay, Bella Bella, and Fort Rupert recognize their economically marginalized position in current market society, the majority of interviewees believed that poverty and associated social problems in First Nations communities are not solvable through the salmon aquaculture industry. Bennet et al (2018) noted that economic accounting does not take into account the full value of access to marine resources, which includes improved food security and sovereignty, cultural connections, social networks, educational and spiritual benefits, a means of transportation, lifestyle benefits, and inter-generational connection. The paper noted that it is extremely difficult to reverse social change processes caused by initial loss of access. Reduced access leads to unemployment and deterioration of social conditions. This means increased mental, social and physical health problems, and out migration which can lead to further increased unemployment in regional urban centers, and amplify the cycle (Bennet et al 2018). Gerwing & McDaniels (2006) interviewees indicated that employment is essential to any poverty alleviation strategy, noting that young adults without work might resort to social assistance or leave reserves. There was also concerns, however, that the infusion of wealth into communities from increased employment could lead to increased alcoholism and drug abuse unless effective healing programs were implemented to address colonial traumas. Thomson (2019) noted that Indigenous political leaders are divided in opinion when it comes to the possibility of moving salmon aquaculture to land in order to preserve wild salmon populations, as some communities are dependent on economic benefits from the farm industry operating within their traditional waters, while others are more concerned about the health and size of the wild salmon populations.


Community members interviewed by Gerwing & McDaniels (2006) suggested that the number of health and environmental concerns negated the possibility of having a ‘successful’ fish farm. Bennet et al (2018) indicated that sustainable management practices include granting rights to participate in the management to local communities who are connected to and reliant on coastal areas and the environment. Continuity of access and practice is essential for local monitoring, stewardship capacity, local and traditional knowledge about stock dynamics, weather and tide patterns, as well as inter generational transfer of safe and effective fishing practices.

Compacted open-net farms like those owned by Cermaq struggle with infestations of sea lice which cannot be contained within the borders of the facility, and spread into the migration routes of the wild Pacific salmon (Thomson 2019). In 2018, Cermaq fishery struggled with 80 to 100 sea lice per farmed fish. Cermaq bathed its farmed salmon in a solution of chemical pesticides to dislodge the sea lice (Thomson 2019). In 2019, federal regulations set a threshold for allowable pesticide levels, because of its high level of toxicity to both marine and human life. (Thomas 2019, Lewis 2019). To deal with lice without insecticide, Cermaq invested in a $13.5 million machine Hydrolicer, which uses pressure to force the sea lice to dislodge themselves off the fished salmon. Not only is this technique harsh enough to cause some farm fishes to die, it imposes high risks on wild populations (Thomas 2019, Lewis 2019). While this technique was argued to be ‘100% pollution-free’ and therefore environmentally friendly, wild Pacific salmon in their migration route pass the open net pens, picking up free-floating lice that the hydrolicer formerly detached from farmed salmon (Thomas 2019). Juvenile wild salmon are the most susceptible as they have not yet developed protective scales. High numbers of lice and little natural defense result in low survival rates for wild salmon. Clayoqout Action (Lewis 2019) argues that Cermaq should no longer be allowed to experiment with risky treatments. Gerwing & McDaniels (2006), Lewis (2019) and Thomson (2019) argue that the best solution is to move open-net farms to land-based salmon aquaculture, moving farms and associated risks far away from the migration routes of wild salmon. In discussions of sustainability, it is important to note that as Bullock et al (2017) argued, increasing local control over common areas can activate stewardship responsibilities and benefits, and so Indigenous sovereignty is essential in maintaining ecological sustainability.


In accordance with part V of the UNCLOS, Canada’s government holds the majority of power in determining access and restrictions in its waterways. This has left corporations such as Cermaq, Marine Harvest, and Creative Salmon to operate freely all along the B.C. coast with limited repercussions, despite local indigenous push back. After devastating wild salmon populations due to sea lice outbreaks, the crown allowed Cermaq to not only continue harvesting at unsustainable levels, but granted passage to using pesticides (Clayoqout Action 2019). With warranted indigenous resistance across a majority of industrial fish farms in B.C., Canada’s colonial rooted tenure systems give these communities limited power on the governing level to voice their concerns. Even when legal action has been taken, for example in Alert Bay with the Namgis First Nations, they have been met with little consideration.

Concerns have been raised in many communities about loss of resources due to disease, and over-harvesting (Gerwig & Mcdaniels, 2006), along with aquaculture advancements destroying traditional harvesting methods. Yet little has been done across the board from a national level to aid these communities, as priority has been given to large scale operations for their economic viability. While there are mutually beneficial relationships in certain situations (ie. Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola) overall, the suppression of local heritage and fishing operations has left a divide in this industry between the crown and indigenous groups. With little power, indigenous communities have been struggling to have their voice heard and this suppression has let industries expand their fishing range while pushing out traditional techniques and sustainable practices.


The well-being and survival of coastal communities are dependent on coastal marine access. Fisheries operating in Canada and ocean science research should incorporate Indigenous Knowledge, and it is critical to provide coastal Indigenous Communities with adequate support for local monitoring, enforcement, response, stewardship efforts and participation in decision-making and management so that they can maintain and increase access to marine resources (Bennet et al 2018).

Centering policy around ocean access for coastal Indigenous communities has been identified as a moral and legal obligation by a number of Government of Canada funded research projects including; Ocean Management Research Network, Coasts Under Stress Project, Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance, Canadian Fisheries Research Network, Community Conservation Research Network, and OceanCanada Partnership (Bennet et al 2018).

Discussions of food sovereignty often focus on the corporatization and capitalization of land through agriculture, recognizing the link between local and national struggles of dispossession which destroy livelihoods (Desmarais & Wittman 2014). Tang (2003) discusses how agriculture has long been used as a colonial tool for dispossession of land and culture, resulting in a power imbalance between First Nations and the colonial Canadian government. The problematic and discriminatory Indian Act of 1876 reflected racist European views of First Nations people, and these were used to justify attempts at assimilation of Aboriginal people within the framework of agriculture. By creating a fixed land base for the creation of reserves, dictating the citizenship of Aboriginal people, enforcing European beliefs, and creating and implementing laws that benefited non-Aboriginal farmers and disadvantaged Aboriginal farmers (Tang 2003), European colonizers created a system that negatively impacts culturally important traditional practices and food sovereignty for First Nations to this day. The food sovereignty movement aims to address the imbalance of power and the struggle for autonomy and territorial control, moving toward collective and decentralized implementation of alternatives through communities, peoples, and international bodies as opposed to just the state (Desmarais & Wittman 2014), therefore we recommend that suggestions of coastal First Nations are implemented, including those from previous research and from further future consultation, which is needed.

Interviewees in the paper by Gerwing & McDaniels (2006) indicated that a better option for fish farming would be land-based, closed-containment sites for salmon farming. They stressed that ocean-based salmon farms should be situated only in areas where natural flushing occurs from strong ocean currents, to prevent bioaccumulation of waste on the sea bottom near the aquaculture site. Another article by Thomson (2019) also argued that the best solution is to move to land-based salmon aquaculture, moving farms and associated risks far away from the migration routes of wild salmon.

Land-Based Salmon Aquaculture

In-line with previous discussion, (Gerwing & McDaniels 2006, Lewis 2019, Thomson 2019) we recommend that Fisheries and Oceans Canada works in consultation with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, Ahousaht First Nation, Heiltsuk First Nation, Namgis First Nation, Nuxalk First Nation to implement measures that enforce and aid the transition to land-based salmon aquaculture within companies such as Cermaq and others that own salmon aquaculture sites located in these First Nations communities.  

First Nations’ tenure approval systems

In the study by Gerwing & McDaniels (2006), multiple interviewees from different communities brought up the idea of First Nations’ tenure approval systems for leases that authorize any development in the foreshore area, based the eco-tourism model in Gitga’at Territory (Uehara 2001, as cited by Gerwing & McDaniels 2006). We therefore recommend that Fisheries and Oceans Canada consult Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, Ahousaht First Nation, Heiltsuk First Nation, Namgis First Nation, Nuxalk First Nation, and other First Nations impacted by salmon aquaculture sites to explore the possibility of implementing this type of approval system.


Annette Aurélie Desmarais & Hannah Wittman (2014) Farmers, foodies and First Nations: getting to food sovereignty in Canada, Journal of Peasant Studies, 41:6, 1153-1173,

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Gerwing, K., & McDaniels, T. (2006). Listening to the Salmon People: Coastal First Nations’ Objectives Regarding Salmon Aquaculture in British Columbia. Society & Natural Resources, 19(3), 259–273.


Government of Canada. (2019). Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Government of Canada website. Retrieved from:

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DOI: Lewis, D. (2019). Cermaq Fails to Control Sea Lice, Despite New Hydrolicer. Retrieved from:

Moody-Humchitt, H.H. & Slett, M. (2015). Declaration of Heiltsuk Title and Rights. Heiltsuk Tribal Council. Retrieved from:

Murray, G., & King, L. (2012). First Nations Values in Protected Area Governance: Tla-o-qui- aht Tribal Parks and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Human Ecology, 40(3), 385–395. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. (2019). About NTC. Nuu-Chah-Nulth website. Retrieved from:

Nuxalk First Nation. (2019) Nuxalk Rights. Nuxalk First Nation government website. Retrieved from:

Nuxalk First Nation. (2019) Fisheries. Nuxalk First Nation government website. Retrieved from:

O’maley, N. (2019). First Nations and allies protest fish farms in Clayoquot Sound near Tofino. Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News. Retrieved from:

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Plummer, E. (2018). Fish farms need First Nations approval, says B.C.’s advisory council. Ha-Shilth-Sa Canada’s Oldest First Nations Newspaper. Retrieved from:

Stewart, L & Masso, S. (2014). Creative Salmon and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation sign protocol agreement. Creative Salmon Organic. Retrieved from:

Tang E. (2003). Agriculture: The Relationship Between Aboriginal Farmers and Non-Aboriginal Farmers. Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre.

Thomson, J. (2019). War on the waters: Salmon farms losing battle with sea lice as wild fish pay the price. The Narwhal. Retrieved from:

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