The Beginning of the End of Salmon Farming in BC

When the Province of British Columbia recently issued the biggest salmon farm expansion in over a decade, they knew the public were not onboard with the decision.  A petition with over 110,000 signatures was recently delivered to the Premier.

However, the Norwegian-based companies each courted a First Nation chief and council and once they made their deals, the Province of BC felt it would be clear sailing to grant leases, despite the public demand that this industry get away from our wild fish.  Four more salmon farms were given tenures to release tons of waste daily.

We can’t know what kind of deal was made with each of the three Nations involved, but what we are seeing now is the failure of this scheme.  Governments can’t ignore the people forever.

On September 9, 2015 five members of the Ahousaht Nation stepped onto one of the new salmon farms that Cermaq was busily anchoring in their territory.  The men asked the fish farm crew to leave and declared they would stay until the farm is removed with no replacement tenure.

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The site is called Yaakswiis. It is a bay on Flores Island in Clayoquot Sound and it lies just south of the Atleo River.  The Atleo was once a highly productive river for all six species of salmon, and trout and has long been utilized by the Ahousaht Nation. There is already a salmon farm just north of the Atleo, placing a second salmon farm just south of the mouth of this river, is going to seal its fate.  Juvenile salmon leaving the Atleo River are not going to survive.  Attempts to restore the river have been unsuccessful.

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Map courtesy of Living Oceans

This occupation of the Cermaq salmon farm at Yaakswiis is not the first time this has happened.  In the early 1990s, Gwawaneuk Chief Charlie Williams near Kingcome Inlet stepped onto a salmon farm and demanded that it release its moorings from an island that is an ancient burial ground. The farm was removed and a restraining order placed on Chief Williams.  Since then there have been many First Nation led protests around salmon farms — to no avail.

Canoe and farm

Farm off

Government and industry like to tout the media-friendly message – that First Nations support salmon farming, but as Namgis Chief Debra Hanuse recently testified before the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, nations who refuse to allow salmon farms are ignored.  Salmon farms go in whether First Nations say yes or no.

This is painfully evident in Dzawada’enuxw territory, Kingcome Inlet.  The Dzawada’enuxw never said yes, and yet salmon farms arrived, continue to operate, and they are expanding.  The scientific evidence suggests this is why Kingcome herring and salmon have dwindled to almost nothing despite closures of fisheries.  Foreign shareholders and CEOs get rich and the local people get poorer.

The biology is clear; it is the politics that are muddy.  We know that another Norwegian company, Grieg Seafood tried to pay commercial fishermen that opposed two new farms.  What I don’t know is why the Province of BC stubbornly persists in thinking it is a good idea to ignore the people in favour of a small industry run by 3 foreign companies.  What are they getting out of this deal?  The industry has failed to make jobs and they are hated even as they try to buy their way into the hearts of British Columbians.

Recent sea lice data from the Cermaq farm closest to Yaakwiis reveals that Cermaq is apparently unable to keep its sea lice under the limits prescribed in BC.

As well, these fish were treated with Aquaflor for some baterial issue. See info posted on this drug – does this belong in waters that people food fish in?

Aquaflor Indications

For the treatment of furunculosis caused by susceptible strains of Aeromonas salmonicida in salmon.

Warning: Treated fish must not be harvested for use in food, or released as stocker fish, for at least 12 days after the latest treatment with this drug. Do not use in fish maintained at water temperatures <5°C. Avoid inhalation of dust and contact with skin and eyes. Wear protective clothing (mask and gloves). Wash hands after handling. Keep this and all medication out of the reach of children.


In a petition to keep Yaakwiis clean for the wild fish, Lennie John writes:

Our initiative aims to protect our waters, our salmon and our other marine resources. Hiisstalktsawaak – All is one. What we put into our waters affects everything living in the water and everything that depends on it… including us! The fecal output, excess feed and fish diseases and illnesses do far more harm than any financial aid Cermaq offers us can repair.

I asked Lennie John, the first to step onto the farm and who remains there, what is his purpose.

“I am fighting to get the fish farms out of our water and we are not going anywhere until they are gone for good!”

All fish farms in your territory?

“Yes, this new one is just the beginning.”

The salmon farming industry has misused the BC coast for 20 years. Today, this is the beginning of the end for this dirty, aggressive little industry.  It can move itself into tanks on land, or it can leave, while others work to rebuild the wild salmon and herring and bring prosperity back to this coast.

The Chilean government just made a unprecedented move to disallow salmon farms on part of their coast.

I stand with the Ahousaht.

You can too sign Lennie John’s petition.

You can also donate funds to help sustain this effort. This site is an hour by speed boat away from Tofino; there are expenses.  You can add a note to direct your donation to this.  Clayoquot Action is providing support at the direction of the Ahousaht who are on the farm.

The Petition

Three Ahousaht ‘Chiefs’ have signed off (in 2013 and 2014) on Cermaq’s Yaakswiis salmon farm – 2km away from the Atleo River and just south of a clam beach.

Ahousaht people were not informed of this farm during the consultation process and now that the Government has granted approval and they have become aware of it, they want to put an end to this farm. The ‘endless growth’ model that the aquaculture industry is built on is unsustainable in Clayoquot Sound. We are at risk for losing our wild salmon stocks and shellfish beaches. There will be no natural resources to sustain our future generations, nor traditional food sources for them to experience if we allow this to continue.

The Chiefs are supposed to look out for their people, and represent their views and opinions. This is NOT happening in the case of the Yaakswiis farm.

Ahousaht Chiefs have the power to revoke the ‘permission’ given to Cermaq, but if the Chiefs will not represent their people, the people will take action themselves. 

This petition represents Ahousaht members who feel another salmon farm in Clayoquot Sound, only 6km from the mouth of Ahousaht Harbour, 2 km’s from the Atleo River, and 1.25 km’s from a clam beach, is not in the best interests of the Ahousaht people.

Alexandra Morton was living in a remote archipelago studying whales when the fish farmers came to her town. Read other articles by Alexandra, or visit Alexandra's website.