VICTORIA -- The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), which represents First Nations from across the province, is calling for an end to open net-pen salmon farming in B.C.

The FNLC says that among its chief concerns is that farmed salmon may be spreading sea lice to salmon stocks throughout B.C.’s waters, which is lethal to juvenile wild salmon.

While the leadership council acknowledges that there are other contributing factors to a decline in salmon stocks over the past several years, the FNLC cites a study conducted by the Cohen Commission which recommends shutting down net-pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands if they pose a health risk to wild salmon.

Many of the recommendations put forward by the Cohen Commission have been adopted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), including putting limits on how long a net-pen salmon farm can be licenced for before it needs to be renewed, and putting a cap on how many permits can be issued each year.

The DFO says that if net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands are scientifically proven to “pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm” to wild fish stocks, then fish farms in the area will be required to close.

The FNLC says that now is the time for the DFO to take action, as a recent report published by fish farm companies Mowi, Cermaq and Grieg suggest that sea lice is now appearing in farmed salmon at rates that exceed limits imposed by the government.

“We have known for years that open net-pen salmon farming is one of the main contributors to the massive decline in wild salmon stocks in this province,” said BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee. 

“The federal and provincial governments have been taking a piecemeal approach to this problem, with long timeframes for transition to closed containment pens, and only in a few places. We need to end salmon farming in our open oceans now to protect both wild salmon and Indigenous ways of being from extinction,” he said.

In a statement made Thursday, the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) told CTV News that it was reaching out to Indigenous leaders to discuss their concerns.

“We heard what some Indigenous leaders had to say today, and plan to reach out to them to engage in a dialogue about the issues they are raising,” said the association. 

“B.C.’s salmon farmers value their relationships with First Nations, and the majority of salmon we farm is done under agreements with First Nations.”

The BCSFA says that the health and safety of B.C. salmon is important to both the industry and local First Nations.

“We understand that management of sea lice is an ongoing concern,” said the association. 

“As an industry we are committed to adopting the newest technologies and processes to be better stewards of the environment. B.C.’s wild salmon is important to all of us and we will begin our outreach today.”