First Nations back BC salmon farming

Salmon farmers in BC value the relationships with local First Nations and continue to work with them to develop mutually beneficial partnerships.

Author: Laura Braden  Published: 02/12/2015 at 5:58 pm

Of all the salmon raised in BC, 78% is done in partnership with First Nations. In total there are currently 19 economic and social partnerships with First Nations, and farming companies are working towards many more.

A recent story posted in a local newspaper in BC described the importance of this relationship to a First Nation entrepreneur, James Walkus. Walkus (owner of James Walkus Fishing Company) credits a large part of his success on his partnership with Marine Harvest Canada. Walkus started as a commercial fishing fleet but now uses his 105′ harvest boat (the Amarissa Joye) to transport salmon from the farms to the processing plant in Port Hardy.

“It’s been tremendous,” said Walkus. “We have First Nations people from our reserve working on these boats. Plus many of them working at the plant, and some of them on the campsites tendering. It’s absolutely great for our people.”

The well-paying permanent jobs allow them to take care of their families, while staying in their traditional communities.

“To be able to come out here every day and be surrounded by the mountains, by the water, by the wildlife, by the fish that I’m raising right now and everything that I do to keep this site running, it feels good to know I’m doing a good job,” said Damon Rampanen, Farm Technician, Cermaq Canada.

This year, for the first time ever, the BC Salmon Farmers Association was invited to hold its AGM in Tofino – home of Creative Salmon, as well as the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. This was a great opportunity for First Nations and industry representatives to celebrate their partnerships together.

“Over 5 to 8 years we learned about Creative Salmon’s fish farm practices,” said Saya Masso, Natural Resources Manager, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. “Every condition we brought forward, Creative Salmon was willing to work with us on. It took awhile to get through all those points and realize we were on the same page.”

And yet another partnership between industry and First Nations has just begun.

Yesterday, MHC announced that fish are in the water at Bull Harbour on Hope Island. The initial discussion between Tlatlasikwala First Nation (TFN) and MHC about salmon aquaculture operations in their traditional territory took place 5 years ago, and in 2013 the parties signed a collaborative agreement that helps to fulfill the dream of Tlatlasikwala First Nation members to return to Bull Harbour, and provides business growth for MHC. The agreement includes ownership of two aquaculture tenures by the TFN, while MHC retains ownership of the infrastructure and salmon.

The Ghi-ya site has received 600,000 smolts over the past two months originating from Ocean Falls hatchery. There is a mixture of experienced and new employees at Ghi-ya, and out of the eight employees there are two Tlatlasikwala First Nation community members. Lesley Higginson and George Lafleur have taken up the opportunity to work in their traditional territory for the first time.

Lesley and George’s return to Hope Island to work is beginning to realize the Nation’s and Chief Tom Wallace’s vision to create growth and opportunity for community members and guests to the land, and enables TFN members to “move back home” and use Bull Harbour as a core community for themselves and their families.

There are eight 120 metre circles at Ghi-ya, a fairly exposed ocean site near the mouth of Bull Harbour, which is expected to have very good conditions for fish growth. A second site further away – Wanx talis (at Heath Bay) – will be ready for fish in the near future.

Manager Jason Fraser says the team is excited to be learning operations at the new site. “So much work has been done to get us to this point, it is great to see the pens finally full of salmon,” Jason says. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do away from the farm, and because we are using Bull Harbour as a base of operations, we’ve started to help upgrade a lot of infrastructure in the village.”

Staff and contractors are currently residing on a barge and in a rental house while plans are in the works to build new housing at Bull Harbour.

“It’s a stunning place to work,” Jason says, adding, “There are many people from the company and Tlatlasikwala First Nation that deserve many thanks for getting us this far.”


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