Saanich South MLA Lana Popham said she wants to keep working with all stakeholders in her capacity as minister of agriculture after opponents of fish farming occupied her constituency office.
“I want to be clear,” she said. “We hear and understand the concerns being raised by First Nations and members of the public.I am committed to continuing to work with First Nations, the aquaculture industry, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to ensure B.C.’s aquaculture sector is environmentally sustainable and respects First Nations’ rights while continuing to provide good jobs for British Columbians.”
Popham issued those comments Thursday afternoon after a group of some 30 people identifying themselves as Fish Farms Out Now! occupied Popham’s office in solidarity of several First Nations, who have been occupying the docks at Marine Harvest’s Swanson Island salmon farm near Alert Bay since Aug. 25, 2017. Occupiers have said that they will not leave until the operator has removed the farm from their traditional territory.
The docks lie within the traditional territories of the Musgamagw (including Dzawada’enuxw, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and Gwawaenuk), ‘Namgis and Mamalilikulla First Nations.
Popham, who is responsible for fish farms, was not at her office during the protest, which organizers said would last for three hours, starting from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. Popham later promised through a constituency office staff that she would talk to them. This promise however did not appear to satisfy them as many, if not all, said they would stay beyond 2:30 p.m.
Critics say commercial fish farms growing Atlantic salmon threaten local populations of Pacific salmon, a historical food source for First Nations.
Thursday’s protest also framed the future fate of fish farms as a litmus test for the provincial government as protesters passed out flyers hat quoted promises by prominent cabinet members including Premier John Horgan himself to contain, if not phase out fish farms.
“Listen Lana Popham, it is time for you to stop them,” they chanted at one stage in voicing their protest against the practice of fish farming.
Popham said in her release that the NDP’s government “is deeply committed” to protecting wild salmon stocks. “It’s essential to our economy, to our province, and to B.C.’s First Nations,” she said. “We are committed to implementing the recommendations of the Cohen Commission aimed at protecting sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.”
Waving placards of various kind inside, the youthful protesters also tried to generate attention by hanging several banners outside of Popham’s office near the intersection of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue.
But perhaps the most effective reaching an audience was through social media, with protesters sharing pictures and videos.
Popham later praised the protesters for being respectful and peaceful. “I have no problem with respectful protests,” she said. “The occupiers even did the dishes before they vacated the premise. Can’t get much better than that.”