If successful, DFN rights claim could affect all fish farms on B.C. coast

VANCOUVER — Today, the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation and lawyer Jack Woodward filed an Aboriginal rights lawsuit against the Canadian federal government. The lawsuit will challenge the federal permits that allow Atlantic salmon to be raised in fish farms within Dzawada’enuxw territory, an important step toward Indigenous reconciliation and sustainable aquaculture in B.C., according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

“We fully support the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation’s efforts to legally establish their rights and title in their traditional territory, and clarify decision-making power over activity within that territory,” foundation director-general for Western Canada Jay Ritchlin said. “In addition to the rights issue, there is an ever-growing body of scientific evidence that strongly suggests these farms pose serious risks to wild salmon. They should be moved as quickly as possible.”

If successful, the claim could affect the 10 farms within Dzawada’enuxw waters and set a precedent for other farms on the B.C. coast that put salmon, eulachon or other First Nations fisheries at risk.

“This nation has never been properly consulted or given consent to house these farms. They’ve always maintained they do not want this activity within their territory,” Ritchlin said. “This case provides an opportunity for much-needed clarity around jurisdiction when it comes to the use of traditional territories.”

Recent federal government research has confirmed that migrating juvenile wild Pacific salmon are vulnerable to diseases transmitted from open net-pen fish farms. In April, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is not monitoring wild fish health, and concluded it is not doing enough to manage risks associated with salmon farms.

A December 14, 2018, deal between three other Broughton Archipelago First Nations and the B.C. government made progress toward acknowledging Indigenous governance rights and addressing risks to wild salmon from open-net fish farms, but much remains to be done. Many of the 17 farm closures won’t take effect until 2022 or later, after the next provincial election. The B.C. government has not stated any plans to decrease the number of salmon farm tenures it issues, and the federal government plans to support aquaculture expansion nationally.

“Given these realities, clarifying First Nations’ rights and authority will be crucial to sustainable aquaculture in this province,” Ritchlin said.

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Brendan Glauser, bglauser@davidsuzuki.org, 604-356-8829