by Craig Weatherby
Anyone who watched the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics saw people from many of Canada's “First Nation” groups dancing to welcome visitors from around the world.
But when it comes to salmon farms that threaten the survival of their ancestral sustenance—wild salmon—all is not well between Vancouver-area First Nations people and one country in attendance… Norway.
Vancouver is located in the Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.), and members of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs are fasting to support a local Tribal Council's opposition to salmon farms off the British Columbian coast.
Billion-dollar Norwegian firms own Marine Harvest and Cermaq, which operate most of British Columbia's salmon farms. These farms are clustered north of Vancouver—in the Broughton Archipelago—and south of Vancouver around the critical Fraser River sockeye run.
More than a dozen hereditary and elected chiefs are expected to join the fast, which will also be observed in communities around the Broughton Archipelago.
According to Chief Bob Chamberlin, chairman of the Tribal Council, the 29-hour hunger strike is timed to end on Tuesday, the day of the Olympic hockey game between Canada and Norway.
Strike supporters dressed as bears and wild salmon will greet Norwegian fans at the hockey game and offer gifts of wild salmon.
This is not the first protest… and given the resistance from powerful interests, it probably won't be the last.
Last fall, we joined a protest in Vancouver, attended by First Nations people, salmon fishermen, local citizens, and operators of tourist businesses (see “Salmon Defenders Rally to Protest Threat from Fish Farms”).
The threat that motivates the protests
The hunger strike is intended to force changes in the design and placement of Norwegian salmon farms, seen as necessary to prevent the devastation or extinction of wild salmon.
The key problem is that salmon farms serve as breeding grounds for huge swarms of sea lice… parasites that latch onto and often kill young salmon as they leave their birth rivers for the ocean.
Farm-generated sea lice are also suspected in the near-total collapse of the critical Fraser River sockeye run last summer (The Fraser is located just south of the city and north of the Washington State border).
The threat posed by sea lice was first documented by wild salmon researcher Alexandra Morton and her colleagues from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.
It became much harder for salmon farmers and B.C. officials to dismiss these concerns after the findings were published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Science in 2007.
Wild salmon don't just supply food and income for many people… as important as that role may be.
Research shows that when they die after spawning, millions of salmon carcasses feed the microbes, plants, trees, and wildlife of the irreplaceable wilderness that lies between Washington State and Alaska.
As Alexandra Morton puts it, the river-to-sea-and-back journey of wild salmon constitutes a “power cord”… one that brings the abundant sun-generated nutrients of the sea to the relatively nutrient-poor rainforests of the Northwest coastal region.
For more on the alarming situation facing wild salmon from Canadian rivers, see “Fish-Farm Threats to Salmon Affirmed.”
Chiefs rebuffed by visiting Norwegian King
Tribal leaders asked for a meeting with King Harald V of Norway while he is at the Olympic Games.
But the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ottawa has already refused, saying that King Harald would not meet with any “special interest” groups.
Chief Chamberlin outlined their requests in a letter to King Harald:
Chamberlin and his colleagues cited several passages from the UN Declaration that Norway signed, including this one:“All we ask for is that the river system and inlets which produce our wild salmon that have sustained the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk people since the beginning of time be shown the very same respect the Norwegian government demonstrated in safeguarding the wild salmon of Norway.”“The Chiefs want to discuss with King Harald the conduct of certain Norwegian Fish Farm Companies and how their business operations are not in accordance with the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the Norwegian Government voted for at the UN General Assembly.”
“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”
(Click here to read the full letter to King Harald.)
In addition to the First Nations, representatives and members of the Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C., Pure Salmon Campaign and Wild Salmon Circle submitted a letter to King Harald, of which this is an excerpt:
“We hope Your Royal Highness can persuade Norwegian companies to clean up their act, move farms out of the path of migrating wild salmon and introduce closed containment systems to protect wild fish from sea lice, mass escapes and infectious diseases.”
And we hope that the First Nations' protests will bring pressure to bear among Norway's populace and within the boards of these giant corporations.