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A small group of opponents had been blockading a fish farm site, located north of Tofino, since Sept. 9, citing potential environmental damage that could result from the plant. (tavishcampbell)
A small group of opponents had been blockading a fish farm site, located north of Tofino, since Sept. 9, citing potential environmental damage that could result from the plant. (tavishcampbell)

Protesters threaten to renew blockade in B.C. fish farm dispute Add to ...

Protesters who had been attempting to block a fish farm on Vancouver Island say they will return to their camp unless the Norwegian company behind the site removes its docks and equipment, as protesters had expected.

Protesters who call themselves the Yaakswiis Warriors said representatives from Cermaq, an aquaculture company with operations in Canada, Chile and Norway, recently promised to remove the installation at a site near Ahousaht, B.C., on Monday morning. A small group of opponents had been blockading the site, located north of Tofino, since Sept. 9, citing potential environmental damage that could result from the plant.

But while Cermaq vessels were nearby, nothing was moved, even though protesters who had previously blockaded the site and their supporters waited several hours in the hopes of seeing some activity.

“About 15 of us went out on four boats this morning just before first light, about 6 a.m. and we waited out there for near six hours,” said Sacheen Seitcham, a spokeswoman for the protesters. “They were about 10 minutes away… the barge was there, with the crane on it, and the tugboat was there.”

A Cermaq representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company has operations on both the east and west side of Vancouver Island, with 27 sea sites and three land-based hatcheries. Cermaq’s Canadian operations are based in Campbell River and employ about 250 people, according to the company’s website.

But few of those jobs – only about 15 in a community of 1,000 people – have gone to Ahousaht residents, Ms. Seitcham said.

Representatives from the Ahousaht First Nation council were not immediately available.

In material on its website, Cermaq says it has an agreement with the Ahousaht First Nation that covers issues such as financial and social benefits and employment. The company says it employs about 50 Ahousaht members and sponsors a college aquaculture training program that currently has 12 Ahousaht members enrolled.

Earlier this year, the B.C. government approved a licence for Cermaq in Millar Channel, east of Flores Island.

When the company started putting equipment on the site in September, protesters blockaded it, claiming the waters around Ahousaht already have enough fish farms and that there has been a decline in wild fish since fish farms began operating there around 1999.

But last week, it appeared an agreement had been reached, with the protesters announcing that Cermaq had agreed to remove the salmon farm early Monday morning.

That did not take place, resulting in chagrin and confusion among the protesters, who had planned a community dinner in Ahousaht on Monday evening. Ms. Seitcham said protesters had heard reports that Cermaq had expressed concerns about employees’ safety if they came to dismantle equipment, but says such concerns were unwarranted.

“We were off the dock, we were a kilometre away, we were waiting in the boats with our binoculars – we were excited,” Ms. Seitcham said. “There would have been no harassment … on our part, it was completely respectful, it wasn’t out of hand at all.”

Aquaculture critic Alexandra Morton, who has joined the protesters at the site, said the proposed farm merits concern.

“It’s a long, narrow channel and the Atleo River comes right into it,” Ms. Morton said. “When you have a long, narrow channel with fish farms, all the viruses and sea lice, they just concentrate [in the area].”

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