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Venture Point fish farm, off the coast of Sonora Island. Photo by Tamo Campos By Sarah Cox, from The Narwhal

In an unprecedented move, the Dzawada’enuzw nation is claiming in court that farming Atlantic salmon — which often carry disease — in their traditional waters constitutes a violation of Aboriginal rights

Willie Moon’s family used to catch hundreds of salmon a day on B.C.’s Kingcome River, ensuring a winter supply of smoked fish for members of the remote Dzawada’enuxw First Nation.

“This year I had my net in for the winter dog salmon [chum] and I believe I only caught 13 in the month of November,” Moon, a hereditary leader, told The Narwhal.

“That’s drastic and scary for our people.”

Moon and other members of his community were in Vancouver Thursday to file an Aboriginal rights lawsuit against Canada that challenges federal fish farm licenses within their traditional territory in the Broughton Archipelago — the latest action in the nation’s escalating bid to revive shrinking Pacific salmon and eulachon stocks.

If successful, the lawsuit would not only close fish farms that affect the Dzawada’enuxw nation but could potentially be used by other First Nations to shut down salmon farms throughout B.C.’s coast, according to lawyer Jack Woodward, who is representing the Dzawada’enuxw [pronounced ‘tsa-wa-tay-nook’].

“Somewhat unfairly, the focus has been on the provincial government’s role in this,” Woodward said in an interview.

“They’re just the landlord… It’s not nice for a landlord to rent space to a person who carries on an illegal business but the real culprit is the person who carries on that illegal business. And that’s exactly what we say is happening here. It’s Canada who’s authorizing this illegal business. It’s the provincial government that rents the space for it.” Last May, the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation took its quest to shut down fish farms to a new level when it filed a claim of Aboriginal title in B.C. Supreme Court, claiming that tenures granted by the province to several companies — the leases that give the farms a place to operate — are not authorized because they are in Aboriginal title areas.

Below: Red dots represent open-net salmon farms in the Dzawada’enuxw terrirtory: But the lawsuit filed Thursday marks the first time a First Nation has ever challenged fish farm licenses granted by Ottawa based on the assertion of Aboriginal right, said Woodward, who represented the Tsilhqot’in Nation in a landmark case that determined the nation holds title to about 1,900 square kilometres of its traditional territory in B.C.

“These challenges to the federal permits are different,” Woodward said in an interview. “They are challenges to the idea, in contravention of the Dzawada’enuxw’s Aboriginal rights, that you can introduce Atlantic salmon to Pacific waters. That’s the fundamental problem here.”

Farmed Atlantic salmon affecting wild Pacific salmon

There is mounting evidence that Atlantic salmon farming adversely affects declining Pacific salmon runs .

The DFN federal court statement of claim says fish farms expose wild salmon and eulachon populations to higher levels of harmful fish parasites, including sea lice.

It states that viruses, including piscine orthoreovirus (PVR) are known to occur in farmed salmon raised in open net pen farms on the B.C. coast and can be transferred to wild salmon and eulachon populations.

It also claims there is a credible body of scientific evidence indicating a direct link between PRV and heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), noting that both PRV and HSMI are known to have deleterious effect on fish.Fish farms pollute and degrade the marine environment around the net pens and underwater lights can attract wild eulachon and salmon and expose them to increased […]

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