(Salmon being released into a fish farm off Vancouver Island. Photo courtesy: Alexandra Morton)
Injunctions against three First Nations activists protesting a fish farm off the northern coast of Vancouver Island was temporarily suspended Wednesday by the company.
Marine Harvest Canada, the owner of Port Elizabeth Fish Farm, was officially occupied by activists Sunday night.
Notices were served to two protesters occupying Port Elizabeth, and one protestor occupying Swanson Island, a fish farm approximately 10 km away, also owned by Marine Harvest.
But early Tuesday morning protestors were forced to pack up their tent and leave Port Elizabeth.
“When protesters were served with a notice to appear in court for an injunction hearing, all protesters vacated our worksite,” said Ian Roberts, the company’s Director of Public Affairs.
“We have since adjourned the court hearing on condition that we can reset it upon 36 hours notice to the defendants should they return to the site.”
But Sherry Moon, one of three female First Nations occupiers said they left due to extreme weather, not the injunctions.
The young activists were occupying the farm with Marine Biologist, Alexandra Morton.
“We only left because of weather,” said Moon. “Winds were hitting over 35 knots and our tents were blowing over touching our noses.”
Marine Harvest said the protestor’s safety is a major concern, but that they filed injunctions because protests may have contributed to approximately 5,000 fish dying.
Port Elizabeth was previously empty, but since Friday ships have been re-stocking the pens with juvenile Atlantic salmon – with RCMP present.
Marine Harvest is blaming protestors for the death of salmon that was being restocked in a pen off the northern coast of Vancouver Island.
A statement on the company’s website from Production Director Dougie Hunter said that it’s unusual for fish to die being transferred.
“We estimate two or three per cent of the fish delivered did not make the transition from freshwater to saltwater, which is very rare,” the statement said.
“We had to adjust the delivery schedule to daylight hours to address safety issues concerning activists protesting at the delivery site, which has resulted in fish being held for up to 10 additional hours within the delivery vessel. Another hour was delayed when protesters attempted to block delivery.
“These delays have caused additional stress to the fish, which may have added to the mortality.”
But protestors disagree.
“They can’t put that on us,” said Moon. “We are only four women. We’re peaceful, we document the re-stocking, we ask questions, but there is no way we have blocked them, or have the ability to block them.
“They went ahead with their work, their re-stocking was successful.”
Re-stocking of fish farms was an important subject discussed at a meeting in Alert Bay last week.
40 leaders from eight different Nations met with Premier John Horgan demanding that the province remove all open-net fish farms from their collective territories.
Horgan did not commit to abolishing the fish farms, but did say there is a cut off date for re-stocking.
“If those leases are up in less than two years, they shouldn’t be able to re-stock.”
Port Elizabeth’s Provincial license expires in June 2018.
It takes juvenile fish 18-24 months to mature.
Horgan did commit to meeting with leadership in the future, but Hereditary Chief, Willie Moon, from Dzawada’enuxw First Nation, said that isn’t good enough.
“Port Elizabeth Fish Farm is in our territory without our consent and we want them out. We have been fighting against fish farms for 30 years. I will continue to pressure the Province to meet with us as soon as possible, but the key is to have us all there. First Nations, and both levels of government. The Federal Minister has to be there!’
For now, the third occupation is on hold, but Sherry Moon says, “We’re prepared to go back at any time.”
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