Philip Hogan is a representative member of the Heiltsuk Nation in British Columbia.


Would you state the position of the Heiltsuk community on salmon farming?

The Heiltsuk position has been for quite some time that we're opposed to open cage salmon aquaculture within our territory, and we have grave concerns about the expansion of the industry nearby on the coast. It may have some serious consequences for wild salmon that could affect us adversely.

Why does your community have these concerns, while the Kitasoo, another First Nation group just 40 miles away, is willing to try the open cages?

I can't really speak for the Kitasoo, but from our perspective, we see there are serious environmental risks that salmon farming has associated with it. Risks like disease, parasite outbreaks, and impacts on the environment. These things are not an acceptable risk to us and we can't afford to be putting at risk the marine environment that we rely upon so much. It would appear to us that some First Nations have come out and made statements to the effect that salmon is not coming back so we might as well jump on the bandwagon, but we haven't given up on wild salmon here at Mount Bella.

How does the state of your fishery compare with the state of the fisheries and fish farms in Klemtu?

I don't know why they call it vibrant, but we've managed to hang on probably better than some other groups or villages have, whether it's First Nations or not. It's been the backbone of our economy here for the last hundred years, and has always been very important to us in terms of both subsistence harvest and harvest for trade. It has been important to us for hundreds and thousands of years. It's something we've maintained and managed. We've invested significant community dollars into facilities to process and catch fish. We've got quite a few people that have maintained their own boats, gear, licenses, and motors for salmon as well as for other fisheries, notably herring. It continues to be a very important part of our way of life. It's something that is very dear to us and we'd rather see efforts to enhance and protect wild salmon, rather than what we see as essentially giving up on wild salmon, and moving to more of a farmed industrial way of producing fish.

Preliminary surveys done on incidence of lice infestation have shown that there were more lice on fish near salmon farms. Could you comment on that?

They're preliminary findings to date. All of the analysis hasn't been done, but from the preliminary findings what I understand is you've zero to very low numbers of lice far away from any salmon farms, like almost virtually none. Adjacent to some of the salmon farms in the area, it's most likely lethal loads in most of their findings. So it seems to be bearing out the connection that has been made between salmon farms and sea lice. We have real concerns that that's going to effectively depopulate wild fish streams in our territory as a result of salmon aquaculture, and we've been opposed to it for that very reason. We're concerned about things like Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN). We know there have been IHN outbreaks in the salmon farms in the Kitasoo and Nutreco run and we have grave concerns about the effect it will have on wild salmon. Also we're concerned about the effects that those operations may have on other marine resources, especially herring, which we need for food for ourselves and for commercial purposes.

Would tending closed container pens signify an unacceptable change in the lifestyle of the Heiltsuk community, or would it be possible to integrate into that way of life?

We have a way of life that we hold very dear to us and that involves commercial activities in terms of the marine environment as well as the subsistence harvest. Something that hasn't been well understood is the value of subsistence harvest to people on the coast. We haven't done a harvest study to actually get the hard numbers on that, but anecdotally we know that just about all of our people rely on wild marine resources as a large part of their diet. Especially if people are underemployed or unemployed, it certainly makes a big difference between having enough wholesome food to eat and not having enough. It's a cultural set of values as well. We want to maintain this connection that we've had to our land since time immemorial. We don't see that salmon farming is an aid to that, in fact, it's something that puts that at risk.

It would theoretically create some jobs, but it also endangers a lot of jobs. There are millions of dollars invested in wild salmon and other fisheries by the Heiltsuk and the tribal council here, so there are not small numbers. It's not like we're sitting here with nothing at stake; there's a great deal at stake. I don't know if you've had a chance to see our fish plant at Old Town, as they call it, that's a multi-million dollar structure that employs quite a few of our people. The fishery isn't quite what we'd like to see, but if given proper management, time, and some enhancement efforts, it could be made to come back. It could be a truly sustainable industry that in addition maintains our connection to our land, which is very dear to us.

Do salmon farms have any effect on wild salmon populations?

It's been clear to us that salmon have been on the decline on the coast and elsewhere. Some species are healthier than others, but certainly it appears to us that salmon farming is just another nail in the coffin for wild Pacific salmon. With the escapes and disease outbreaks of different pathogens, it's just not good for Pacific salmon. We think science is starting to bear this out.

We met Mr. Hauste this morning, and he had just brought in 18,000 salmon this morning.

Oh yeah.

So he would agree with you that the salmon could come back?

It's so bad here. Some species are hit harder than others. There definitely needs to be work done in habitat restoration and things like that. We have a good opportunity to do that here locally. We want to make sure that it happens. The expansion of salmon aquaculture onto the Central and North Coast is really detrimental to the viability of wild salmon. It's becoming clear from what we've seen abroad and in the Broughton and other areas that the two kinds of fisheries don't work well together. Maybe if they change things in the way they run aquaculture, that's possibly down the road, but it doesn't seem economically viable at this time. It doesn't seem like there is any will on the part of the companies or the government to enforce that kind of change. The risks are just too great for us to allow them to happen.

Sounds like you've been communicating with a lot of other First Nation communities up and down the coast and on Vancouver Island. Is it your sense that the majority of First Nation communities share your position?

I'm not entirely certain, in terms of numbers, but it's definitely a fallacy that most First Nations support fish farming. They do not. There are a few who have chosen to become involved with fish farming for various reasons, but I think even among some of those, it's kind of lukewarm. We're trying to hang on to a way of life, and we don't see it's worth the risk. There are a few First Nations that have taken the plunge. They have been very outspoken as the Heiltsuk have in terms of the zero-tolerance policies. There's not a lot of enthusiasm for it, especially as more information gets revealed in terms of the impact that the farms are having on pink salmon. There were some statements a couple years ago from the government, saying a lot of First Nations were in favor of this. I think they've picked out a few that have chosen to be involved and tried to make that representative, when really that's not the case.

What have we neglected? Is there something you'd care to say or add?

We have a website, We try to keep our press releases posted on our site so people stay updated or see some of the history. We've initiated a couple of legal cases. One of which is completed and we're awaiting the decision; it should be coming out shortly. It's about a hatchery that was put into a place called Ocean Falls. It's not far from here. It was a Heiltsuk village site until the turn of the century. We were more or less pushed out of there by government. The government didn't stop the company. We've been trying to work to get that back, but again history is repeating itself.
Without any meaningful consultation they've gone and built something in there, a fish farm hatchery. It was to aid in the expansion of salmon aquaculture and we're very upset with that, so we took it to court and we're hoping for a good decision.

We're not going to go anywhere. That's something the people have to realize; the Heiltsuk have been here for thousands and thousands of years. You've seen our village, and we're a fairly large and well-established village on the coast here. Most of the people who are making the decisions are trying to benefit from these farms in the area. It's a place to put a business. If something goes wrong, they just pick up and move, and for us, we're going to be here to bear the brunt of any problems that they leave behind. That's not acceptable. The majority of the people in this area are aboriginal. The majority of the people within Heiltsuk territory are Heiltsuk people. The non-native people in our territory live right here in our village. They married in or worked for us. This is not something where we are the minority in this area. This is our country, our homeland, and we're trying to protect our way of life.

People talk about democracy and people's rights; well we have aboriginal rights to our territory. We've never surrendered our title to the land. We believe in our way that we own everything here and we have a right to govern it. The government of Canada for a very long time has not respected us. That's something that we're working to change. By the nature of those who live here, we're not benefiting from this; in fact, we think we're going to be suffering because of it. Foreign wealthy national corporations and a government that's very unresponsive to the concerns of its citizens are doing it. That's not something that we think is good for the Heiltsuk or good for the people of this coast.

We're not the only people who rely on salmon to make a living and we're not the only people who rely on the ocean to be healthy to make our way of life. That's something that people need to be aware of. There's this fallacy too that eating farmed salmon is good for the environment because you're saving wild salmon. That simply isn't the case. If anything, it's putting the wild salmon at risk to a further degree and it's hurting people who are trying to make a living by harvesting wild salmon.
We've been able to do it sustainably for thousands of years, so I think if we were given half a chance we could do it again.

Great, thank you.