By Jason Murphy. First Published 05/01/2018
Over the New Year I struggled to find a new title for the BC Coast Sealives assignment.
I have been using the working title of “Microcosm” with the idea that the issues that we experience here are the same ones that are replicated all over the world and with issues of marine conservation in general, and that I might be able to tie that in with Echo Bay’s status as the world’s smallest marine park.
But having spent a few days up here is was obvious that the title really didn’t do justice to the scale of the landscape and the lives and the stories that the region holds. In fact in seemed borderline insulting.
I had some ideas for new titles, but my visit to Courtney yesterday clinched which one I would choose.
I drove to Courtney to meet Carla, a member of the Mamalilikulla First Nations band and her daughter Molina. Carla has been connected to the opposition to salmon farming in the Broughton Peninsula and Johnstone Straight areas via friends and family since the industry arrived here in Seventies. Molina has turned activist and has spent over 130 days picketing two separate farms this year.
The protestors camp directly on the farms and have an uneasy but so far non-violent relationship with the people who work there.
As you would expect, to talk with Molina and her mom is to get the salmon farming story from the protestors point of view. I will need to talk to people on the other side of the fence (net,) to get a more rounded picture. But what they had to say was fascinating none-the-less.
Two main points came across – they believe that the ecology of the area and the well-being of the First Nations people to be inseparable, and they see open pen salmon farming (the raising of salmon to maturity in pens sunk into the ocean) as an abomination, a failed experiment that should have been done away with almost as soon as it began.
They point to the industry’s lack of natural sustainability – the need to provide fish pellets for food and (they say,) to artificially oxygenate the water – as a clue to what they see as the inherent unsuitability of the technique. They point to reports that salmon farming is not feed efficient although this point seems hotly disputed. And they point to the pressures that pollutants from fish farms and disease transmitted from farmed fish pose to wild salmon stocks.
When I pointed out that many other things are putting pressure on wild salmon – climate change, commercial salmon fishing, competition for food from salmon released from salmon ranch hatcheries in the Alaska, Japan and Russia in to the Pacific – they me told that the other factors don't change the fact that salmon farming is wrong and should go.
And in their minds the economic argument is immediately dismissed. For Molina there is a legacy of her people drawing a livelihood from the ocean’s natural state that the farms are only helping to destroy – a legacy that First Nations people of her generation have been denied. For Carla the talk of the industry providing employment for local people is overblown.
When I asked Molina what happens when she talks with long time family friends who work at the farms she says they don’t put up much of an argument. To them its “just a job” she says.
The two of them are ambivalent about land based salmon farming – a technique which raises salmon in large tanks located away from the ocean. They are aware that one of the local bands is involved in such a project, but while conceding that it “is better” than ocean farming I get a strong sense that they think the real focus should be on wild salmon.
One thing is for sure – any picture of how the area’s marine habitat will be managed in future must include some kind of verdict on salmon farming, and it has been identified as a natural enemy by the First Nations and non-First Nations scientists alike.
On reflection, it is striking to me how so many issues – including this one – are in play despite many years of searching for solutions in this region. Vancouver is where Greenpeace was born, and the area not only contains the world’s smallest marine park, but also the world’s oldest whale sanctuary at Robson Bight. And a generation down the road we are still struggling to wrap our heads around what the future will hold for the next.
At this point it seems that the only part of the legacy of marine conservation in the area that is know for sure is the continuing need to work with and solve marine conservation issues. And it is this realization that has given me the new title for this assignment: