B.C. fish farms will require Indigenous consent

Globe and Mail, Justine Hunter – June 19, 2018
The B.C. government is poised to give an effective veto to First Nations over fish farm tenures in their territories, a historic concession that reaches beyond the traditional court-ordered requirement that Indigenous groups be consulted and accommodated on resource decisions on their lands.
The NDP government will announce on Wednesday B.C.’s aquaculture industry will have four years to adapt before any tenures are cancelled, sources told The Globe and Mail. The veto power most assuredly means that some companies will be evicted because the farms are adamantly opposed by some – but not all – Indigenous groups.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, along with the premier’s deputy minister Don Wright, outlined their new policy this week in private briefings with stakeholders. The announcement Wednesday is timed to coincide with the expiry of 20 B.C.-issued seabed tenures in the province’s most hotly contested region for aquaculture – the Broughton Archipelago.

Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Globe that those tenures will be maintained on a month-to-month basis until June 30, 2022, when the new rules will apply across the coast.

There are currently 116 marine finfish farms operating in British Columbia, and most of the regulation of the industry falls under the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The majority of the DFO-issued tenures expire in 2022. But B.C. controls the seabed, and through that narrow authority, it has the power to influence where open-net pens are located.

Premier John Horgan promised to determine the fate of the tenures issued by the province through a “consent-based” policy, which has been developed with Indigenous communities in the Broughton Archipelago over the past six months.

That commitment was guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which calls on governments to obtain free, prior and informed consent for resource development from the local Indigenous people.

The resulting framework, the sources said, will mean that open-net aquaculture operations will require the consent of local First Nations before B.C. renews their tenures. In the Broughton Archipelago, that will be interpreted as a pending eviction notice.

In addition, the province will require the federal DFO to confirm that the fish farms will not threaten wild salmon stocks.

In a statement provided Tuesday, DFO officials said Ottawa will respect the provincial government’s decision regarding the issue of tenures for existing aquaculture sites in the Broughton Archipelago.

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