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We Wai Kai First Nation, fish farms challenging Discovery Islands licence decision

A court challenge has been filed by a Vancouver Island First Nation and fish farms, challenging a decision to not renew seven aquaculture licences in the Discovery Islands.

According to a statement from the We Wai Kai First Nation, the challenge is not about their support or opposition to fish farming, but rather their right to make decisions about how their territory is used.

“Our right to decide is a crucial component of our title – one that is recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and one that the minister entirely ignored in her decision,” said chief councillor Ronnie Chickite of We Wai Kai Nation in a statement.

“We strongly believe that this was a political decision that was heavily influenced by Nations that do not have title in our territory.”

The Nation says they are asking the court to set aside the decision of the minister so that they “have an opportunity for [their] proposal to be properly considered.” They are also asking for records to be provided so they can see why the decision was made.

The Nation says they submitted a proposal in late November, outlining their plan to allow one production cycle at the seven sites and to include them in the transition from open net-pen farming.

“The proposal is clear that we do not necessarily intend to permit the continued operation of active fish farm sites,” added Chickite. “Rather, we intend to determine for ourselves if, when and how these sites are operated in the future.”

According to Mowi Canada West, which is based in Campbell River and is also challenging the decision, they had 645 employees in the Discovery Islands area. They say they are now down to 312 employees following the decision.

They add the area has accounted for about 30 per cent of their operations until recently and the decision ignored or misconstrued research data and guidance from the DFO.

“Mowi has an obligation to protect its employees, fish and business at large from significant harm caused by unlawful and unreasonable government decisions,” said the company in a statement.

“The continued absence of procedural fairness afforded by both ministers throughout the process of licensing renewals within the Discovery Islands region leaves our company no other option than to seek the court’s intervention.”

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