Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 28, 2014

Contact:  Chief Bob Chamberlin, (250) 974-8282
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

Indian Nations Call for NAFTA Investigation on Harm to Wild Salmon From
Industrial Fish Farms in British Columbia

MONTRÉAL— More than a dozen British Columbia Indian Nations, as well as 16 fishing and salmon conservation groups in Canada and the United States, are requesting that a NAFTA environmental commission investigate Canada’s failure to protect wild salmon from disease and parasites from industrial fish farms in British Columbia.

Earlier this year a key NAFTA body recommended a formal investigation by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an environmental dispute body established under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The commission was supposed to respond to this recommendation by Aug. 12, but there has been no response.

“We are seeking investigation and transparency into Canada’s continued disregard for the safety of wild salmon from disease impacts of open net cage fish farms in British Columbia,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Kwikwasu'tinuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation. “These impacts were highlighted in the Cohen Commission report, whose recommendations Canada continues to ignore. The Cohen Commission clearly pointed out the conflict of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans promoting fish farms when its primary function is to protect wild fish and the environment.”

In 2012 some of these tribal, fishing and conservation groups submitted a formal petition asking for a NAFTA investigation into Canada’s failure to enforce its federal Fisheries Act in relation to salmon aquaculture operations in British Columbia. The petition documented pollutants, viruses and parasites from open-water industrial fish farms that are harming British Columbia’s wild salmon runs.

“British Columbia First Nations are forming the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance as a political body to demand the Canadian government fulfill its duty to safeguard wild salmon and the environment,” said Chief Chamberlin.

Canada has permitted more than 100 industrial salmon feedlots in British Columbia to operate along wild salmon migration routes, exposing ecologically, socially and economically valuable salmon runs to epidemics of disease, parasites, toxic chemicals and concentrated waste. Salmon feedlots are linked to dramatic declines in wild salmon populations worldwide and the spread of lethal salmon viruses and parasites. Scientific evidence of threats to wild salmon swimming through British Columbia waters from fish feedlots has been mounting, as has public concern that feedlots could spread epidemic diseases. This is a threat that jeopardizes the health of every wild salmon run along the Pacific Coast, since U.S. and Canadian stocks mingle in the ocean and estuaries. In January 2014 the Canadian government opened the British Columbia coast to more salmon farms.

Today’s request was sent by chiefs and representatives from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Kwikwasu'tinuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation, Neskonlith Indian Band, Xaxli'p, Cayoose Creek Indian Band, Nak’azdli Whut’en, Splatsin First Nation, Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation, Spuzzum First Nation, Cheam Indian Band, Bridge River Indian Band, Kwikwetlem First Nation and Musgamagw Dzawda'enuxw Tribal Council, along with 16 Canadian and U.S. salmon-protection groups.

When a country that is signatory to the North American Free Trade Agreement fails to enforce its environmental laws, any party may petition the Commission for Environmental Cooperation for investigation. Canada’s Fisheries Act prohibits harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat or addition of “deleterious substances.” The commission’s governing body, composed of high-level environmental authorities from Canada, the United States and Mexico, was supposed to make a decision by Aug. 12 on whether to initiate a full factual investigation into Canada’s lack of enforcement of the Act.

Since the NAFTA petition was filed, the Cohen Commission of Inquiryinto the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser Riverissued a final report concluding that salmon farms have the potential for “serious or irreversible” harm to wild salmon through disease transfer. The Cohen Commission recommended a freeze on farmed salmon production along part of the Fraser sockeye migration route until 2020, at which time all farms should be removed unless Canada produces hard evidence they are doing no more than minimal harm. Yet in January 2014, without any response to the Cohen Commission recommendations, Canada opened the British Columbia coast to more salmon farms.

More than half a million Atlantic salmon were culled and quarantined in May 2012 in British Columbia fish farms due to a viral outbreak. Recent research shows that a Norwegian strain of piscine virus appears to have entered British Columbia around 2007. This virus, known to spread easily and associated with a disease that weakens the heart muscle of salmon, has been identified in nearly all farmed salmon raised and sold in British Columbia. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also revealed recently that there has been no follow-up testing on the deadly ISA fish virus, despite positive test results in samples of British Columbia farmed salmon.

Canada is considering weakening the Fisheries Act by removing section 36, which prohibits the addition of deleterious substances to wild salmon habitat, to accommodate stronger anti-parasite drugs in industrial salmon feedlots. In June 2014 Canada’s Aquaculture Licence was challenged in federal court to determine whether the country can legally give salmon-farming companies the power to transfer diseased salmon into net pens in the ocean. A decision is pending.

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