Fish farm protesters light sacred fire at B.C. legislature; protect wild salmon

Kwakwaka'wakw nations and supporters stand against fish farms in their traditional territories during a demonstration on Lekwungen Territory at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, November 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Kwakwaka'wakw nations and supporters stand against fish farms in their traditional territories during a demonstration on Lekwungen Territory at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, November 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA - Protesters opposed to salmon farms on Vancouver Island lit a ceremonial fire near the front steps of British Columbia's legislature and called on the provincial and federal governments to protect wild salmon by getting rid of fish farms.

Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred told about 200 people gathered outside the legislature Thursday the crackling fire represents his Indigenous ancestors.

"We want to thank you for observing the sacred fire," he said. "It's important because it's the sound of our ancestors."

Alfred said Indigenous people are linked spiritually, socially and economically to B.C.'s salmon and the health and survival of their stocks is paramount.

The traditional leader has been part of ongoing protests and temporary occupations of several long-term Atlantic salmon fish farms located near Alert Bay, just off northern Vancouver Island. The protesters, including Alfred, want the salmon farms operated by Marine Harvest Canada, shut down.

Chief Willie Moon of Kingcome Inlet told the placard-waving protesters salmon farms have been in his territories for 30 years and he's seen drastic declines in wild salmon stocks.

"I'm worried about our homeland for our people," he said. "Within the next two years if we don't get these fish farms out of our territory we're not going to have salmon."

Jeremy Dunn of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said the industry shares the concerns of Indigenous people and others about once abundant salmon stocks, but the farmers aren't taking the blame for declines in wild salmon.

"I can understand the concern people have over salmon stocks they expect to be more abundant that aren't," he said. "I feel for their concern in this area as does everyone that lives on the coast."

Dunn said there are 109 salmon farms in B.C. waters. He said the salmon farming industry employees 6,600 people and generates about $1.5 billion annually.

Premier John Horgan said salmon farming has been underway in B.C. since the 1980s and it's an issue that cannot be resolved quickly. But he said the sustainability of wild salmon is one B.C.'s and his highest priorities.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved. 2017

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