Swanson Salmon Fish Farm Occupation, British Colombia, Canada

The longest running occupation of a salmon fish farm that threatens wild salmon in B.C.


Swanson Island is located on the Northeast Coast of Vancouver Island in the Broughton Archipelago and is the home of the Kwakwaka’wakw people (Living Oceans, 2014). The Kwakwaka’wakw people are considered the traditional gatekeepers of the region and have lived here since time immemorial. Foreign companies such as Marine Harvest, the largest salmon farm corporation in the world (Norwegian because it was experimental, very little policy), have been operating in  the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations Mamalilikala, Musgamagw, ‘Namgis, people´s territory for the last 30 years without their consent (Prystupa, 2018).

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Basic Data
NameSwanson Salmon Fish Farm Occupation, British Colombia, Canada
ProvinceBritish Columbia
SiteBroughton Archipelago
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific CommoditiesLand
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsFish farming developed in British Columbia in the 1970s as salmon aquaculture. It was experimental and was born out of dwindling salmon numbers and increasing demand for salmon. Salmon aquaculture started in the Broughton Archipelago and grew through trial and error. Scientists conducted these tests in small-scale operations and eventually discovered that growing Atlantic salmon, non-endemic species provided the greatest yield. The 1980s and the 1990s saw upscaling and the growth of the industry to 1.5$ million dollars in B.C. and 75 salmon farms owned by Marine Harvest. ("History of BC Salmon Farming | Positive Aquaculture Awareness, salmon fish farming facts", n.d.). Modern salmon farming operates by submerging a metal cage full of cultivated Atlantic salmon into bodies of water where native salmons travel within to spawn. This massive industrialization has lead to large quantities of salmon growing in close proximities and developing diseases and ailments that spread laterally to native salmon populations and decrease the abundance of native wild salmon.

According to Marine Harvest, the company operates within the traditional territories of 24 First Nations and has formal agreements with 15 of them and eight First Nation-owned businesses.
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date24/08/2017
End Date20/06/2018
Company Names or State EnterprisesMarine Harvest from Norway
Relevant government actorsBC Provincial Government
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersMaya’xala xan’s Awinakola ("Respect Our Environment") http://respectourenvironment.com/

The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local scientists/professionals
The ‘Namgis First Nation of the Kwakwaka’wakw, Biologist Alexandra Morton
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
occupation of the fish farm, tiny house, collection of water samples and studies on impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Food insecurity (crop damage)
OtherDiseases impacting wild salmon that may be related to fish farms: the bacterial disease ferunculosis, piscine reovirus, a highly contagious virus believed to cause disease, a heart and skeletal muscle inflammation, known as HSMI which makes fish lethargic and sea lice, small parasitic crustaceans that feed on the skin and mucous of fish.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
OtherThe protection of Aboriginal rights put at risk
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseIn operation on a month-to-month basis
Development of AlternativesProvincially run on land fish farms is an alternative addition to federal open net fish farms. Technology is proven to work in Port McNeill in a pilot test, yet the operation will need to be substantially larger to earn a profit (Wilson, 2018). The move to on land fish farming does not face much opposition from aquaculture workers as demonstrated by the positive response from Jeremy Dunn the director of British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association (Wilson, 2018).

This open mindset to move to on land operations is quite supported, yet the process may be costly. The cost of transitioning may serve as an obstacle due to industry inquiring about heavy subsidization from the government to aid the process. As Jeremy Dunn states "with tremendous government assistance to help fund those costly programs." (Wilson, 2018) providing a perspective of how economic gain persisting to be in the forefront.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.There are some groups that are happy with the outcome of the Swanson Island case study, as the government has made the commitment to place a policy in 2022 which is seen as a step in the right direction. However, there are others who believe 4 years is too late, as the salmon have already been impacted so heavily by the aquaculture industry since the 1970s.
Sources and Materials

History of BC Salmon Farming | Positive Aquaculture Awareness, salmon fish farming facts.
[click to view]

Living Oceans. (2014). Broughton Archipelago Salmon Farm Licenses and Tenures [Image].
[click to view]


The Canadian Press. (2008). Salmon farms destroying wild salmon populations in Canada: study | CBC News
[click to view]

Wilson, D. (2018, March 7). B.C. government 'very interested' in moving open-net fish farms onto land, minister says. CBC News.
[click to view]

Rasmussen, G. (2018). It's wild salmon health vs. money and jobs as B.C.'s fish farm fight comes to a head | CBC News.
[click to view]

Lovegrove, D. (2017). Swanson Island.
[click to view]

Prystupa, M. (2018). Swanson Occupation: The battle for wild salmon. Cascadia.
[click to view]

Alfred, E. & Morton, A. (2018). Something in the water: New salmon virus study stresses need to get fish farms out of ocean. Ecojustice Blog
[click to view]

Media Links

Maya’xala xan’s Awinakola, the group of activists fighting for the removal of all open net fish farms on the coast of BC
[click to view]

A video reviewing the Swanson Occupation from the perspective of Cheif Ernest Alfred
[click to view]

Meta Information
Last update29/12/2018