First Nations hold floating protest to demand end to salmon farming in B.C.

Dozens of Indigenous protesters and their allies took to the water in Tofino Harbour on Saturday to demand that the federal government refuse to renew salmon farm licences on the B.C. coast next month.

The "flotilla" for wild salmon was aimed at federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, who will have to decide whether to renew 79 licences set to expire on June 30.

Murray's predecessor, Bernadette Jordan, renewed 19 licences in the Discovery Islands on a temporary basis in 2020, announcing a plan to phase out all salmon farming in the area by this year.

That decision was quashed in federal court in April, but those calling for an end to fish farming in B.C. say the court's ruling doesn't stop Murray from refusing to renew licences next month. 

Murray's ministerial mandate letter calls for a transition away from open net-pen salmon farms by 2025, and the protesters gathered Saturday said they hope to hold the federal government to that promise.

"We want all salmon farms gone out of B.C. coastal waters," said George Quocksister Jr., hereditary chief of Laich-Kwil-Tach Nation.

"Those 79 federal salmon licences that expire at the end of June, we don't want any of them renewed, period. There's 100-plus nations that say, 'We do not want this anymore.'"

For its part, the BC Salmon Farmers Association warns that if licences are not renewed, the province would lose 4,700 jobs and roughly $1.2 billion in annual economic activity.

The association says such a loss would devastate some coastal communities, including Indigenous communities involved in the industry.

According to the association, 80 per cent of salmon farms in B.C. operate "in agreement with the First Nations in whose territories they operate."

In March, B.C. Premier John Horgan sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern over the potential economic impact of the planned phase-out of fish farms in the province. 

The premier called for the federal government to ensure "an appropriate transition program" is in place that considers the interests and concerns of those reliant on the industry.