Leonardo DiCaprio is no king when it comes to fish farms

First Nations call out the Hollywood star for opposing BC fish farms. 


Some may remember actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s line from the movie Titanic 27 years ago: “I’m the king of the world.”

No, Leonardo, you’re an actor, much acclaimed, but still an actor. An actor whose latest environmental campaign is aimed at robbing some BC First Nations of economic and reconciliation opportunities through ocean salmon-farming.

He’s misguided, to say the least, as he calls on Canada to stop federal license extensions for “ocean-polluting Atlantic salmon farms in BC”  

Current licenses expire soon, but federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier says there will be no closures of salmon farms while Ottawa works on a transition plan, whatever that means. 

17 First Nations in BC have formal agreements with salmon farming companies. Now at stake are 57 salmon farms and 79 federal licenses.

First Nations who support salmon-farming were quick to call “cut” on movie star DiCaprio and his activist allies.

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship released a 500-page science review, commissioned by the coalition, and compiled by the BC Salmon Farmers Association and the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences.

The publication includes contributions and data from First Nations, Pacific Ocean scientists, the aquaculture sector, subject-matter experts, government, and environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs).

Says coalition spokesperson Dallas Smith of the Tlowitsis Nation: “By blending our traditional ecological knowledge with the Western science and methodology highlighted in this report, Indigenous peoples can paint the most fulsome picture of what is happening in our waters, including understanding and monitoring the impacts of industries and better predicting and combatting climate change.

“Working together in this way, we can conserve and preserve our marine space while building up our ocean-based economies and economic autonomy. We strongly believe both can exist in the same space.”

SeaWest News notes: “There are currently over a dozen coastal First Nations hosting finfish farms in their territories in BC. These Nations make up a substantial area of BC’s southwest coast, from Central/Western Vancouver Island up to the Central Coast.”

And: “BC salmon farmers generate over $1.142 billion of direct economic activity in BC annually, with $51 million in revenue going to First Nations.”

Activist campaigns have been pressing Ottawa for years to shut down ocean salmon farms, and in 2020 the feds did close 19 salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands area on claims that they affected wild salmon stocks. 

But a team of the government’s own fisheries scientists said the farms were of “minimal risk” to Fraser River salmon — based on nine separate peer-reviewed risk assessments. That, in turn, was challenged by other scientists, but a study of Scottish salmon farms found they had nothing to do with declining wild salmon stocks.

And the new coalition science review finds: “Wild salmon returns were highly variable both before and after the introduction of salmon farms. Removal of salmon farms in one area had no immediate impact on salmon returns, suggesting an independence. Wild salmon returns will continue to fluctuate with or without salmon farms. Farm management measures are effective at controlling sea lice.”
One outcome of the closures was pointed out by Resource Works founder and CEO Stewart Muir: “Because many BC salmon farms have closed, local diners are now served (ocean-) farmed salmon flown in from Norway, instead of the 100-mile-diet variety.”

It is unclear whether Ottawa’s “transition plan” will mean closed-containment farms in ocean waters or land-based aquaculture. There has been some experimentation with closed-containment systems in the sea, but the industry says land-based salmon-farming just isn’t doable.

BC government report says regulatory uncertainty, high capital cost, and low returns on investment are primary restraints on alternative forms of salmon farming in BC. 

Not all First Nations support ocean salmon-farming, but Dallas Smith says existing salmon farms are supported by the First Nations communities that they operate in.

One prime supporter is the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, some 500 km north of Vancouver, where Kitasoo Seafoods is the largest employer. 

Salmon farming, and sales of smoked salmon, bring the Kitasoo/Xai’xais more than half of their nation’s economy of $3 million. 

Isaiah Robinson, deputy chief councillor and economic development head: “If 51 per cent of our economy is gone, how are these people going to pay for new mortgages, for food, for all these other things we’re hoping to do as a community?”

The nation quickly responded to DiCaprio with this: “We, the Kitasoo Xai’Xais Nation, are incredibly disappointed with the false narrative being spun about the impacts of fish farms in BC. 

“There is an incorrect story being told by celebrities who do not understand nor account for the realities of First Nations.

“Organizations like Wild First Canada pull activists and the public in with misinformation and get big names to stand behind them, with zero accountability for how this could devastate the progress Indigenous Peoples have made to attain food affordability, job security, and independence as a nation.”

And coalition spokesperson Dallas Smith says: “We are going to take back what is being taken from us. We will continue to use our voices and our best decisions for our communities, and we won’t be swayed by well-funded urban activists and outsiders with misinformed agendas.”

As well, the Global Seafood Alliance called DiCaprio’s post incredibly misinformed.

“Aquaculture provides a solution to feed the world’s growing population in a responsible way — there is only so much land available to convert to agriculture. Responsibly farmed seafood enables millions of people to have access to safe, healthy protein,” it said.

“Aquaculture production emits less greenhouse gas emissions than all other types of livestock industries (pork, beef, chicken, etc.), while providing millions of jobs around the world.”

And the Young Salmon Farmers of BC said DiCaprio should “do better.”

“Thank you for showing an entire generation of young leaders who have committed their careers to this carbon-friendly sector growing food for the world that you don’t actually research these issues before you take a public stance on them.”

We just hope that DiCaprio was right when he said in his post to Instagram that Ottawa is considering extending the licenses for open-net pen salmon farms by up to six years.

That sounds good, for a start.

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