Canada's Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation in British Columbia's remote Great Bear Rainforest holds six of the 79 salmon farming licenses that are up for renewal this June.
"Removing farms from the ocean, if that’s the way we’re going to operate, we’re not going to have an economy," Isaiah Robinson, general manager of Kitasoo Development Corporation and a Kitasoo Band Councilor, told IntraFish.
"We can't have farms on land in Klemtu. We’re so far away from the market, it's just not feasible."
Klemtu, with a population of 450, can only be reached by boat or by air. It's also 310 miles away from Vancouver, British Columbia, where a majority of First Nations in the area have expressed their support for removing the netpen farms owned by Mowi, Cermaq and Grieg.
"It will impact this nation so much so it’s going to be hard to recover," Robinson said. "We can’t just find any industry to plop in here and make work."
Mowi, the world's largest salmon farmer, processes 5,000 metric tons of salmon a year from Klemtu farms.
Mowi has been operating its plant in the northern British Columbia village of Klemtu thanks to a longtime partnership with the Kitasoo/Xai'Xais First Nations band that dates back to 1998.
A new Walmart smoked salmon brand produced by the Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nation in partnership with Mowi could also be at risk if the licenses aren't renewed in Klemtu.
"We've just invested millions of dollars into initiative, "Robinson said. "Now the minister has a chance to take this away from us. It's hard to say how we move forward. The smoked salmon is straight from Atlantic salmon we're raising."
Currently, Mowi employs 43 members of the Kitasoo Xai’xais community, according to the company.
Robinson said the Kitasoo Xai'xais Nation is working with 17 other First Nations and companies to urge the minister to renew the salmon farming licenses set to expire this summer.
He has not heard anything back on what she intends to do in Klemtu.
"It’s hard for us and hard for Mowi to say we’re going to invest more," he added. "We can't invest more if there’s an uncertain future, and it’s scaring investors away. That is a concern for Mowi."
It remains unclear whether the fisheries minister will renew the licenses.
Claire Teichman, press secretary for Canada Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, recently told IntraFish the protection of wild Pacific salmon is a priority for British Columbians, and the minister plans to follow through with transitioning from netpen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.
Despite the uncertainty, Mowi has been updating its operations in Klemtu. It has installed artificial intelligence (AI) in a feed station located in the same building as the recently opened smokehouse, a first for Mowi Canada West.
The AI will be used to recognize individual feed pellets and will also track fish activity levels.
The feed station now allows staff to feed salmon at four of the six farms from a remote location. The AI technology allows the job to be more manageable and flexible for Klemtu residents, Robinson explained.
The company has also replaced aging infrastructure for workers on the site with a 28-bedroom centralized accommodation barge "with every modern convenience for staff working shifts at the sea farms."
The accommodations include staff bedrooms with TVs, as well as a restaurant providing catering, a gym and office space.
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