April 17, 2023
Honorable Justin Trudeau,
Honorable Joyce Murray, Minister
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)
OPEN LETTER: FNLC Calls for The Prime Minister to Act After Parliamentary Report Details Systemic Issues in DFO
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Murray:
We are writing regarding the March 2023 scathing report by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Ocean (FOPO) on science at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). This report is an indictment of the many issues long identified by First Nations and exposes the bias and unscientific decision-making and processes that permeate DFO.
We urge Prime Minister Trudeau to provide leadership and a clear mandate to address the issues identified, including an independent audit of DFO processes and systemic reforms to end DFO’s flagrant contraventions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This process must involve co-planning with First Nations on how to implement the recommendations. We also call on Minister Murray to transparently implement the report’s recommendations within her authority, in partnership with First Nations, including Recommendation 26 to build the scientific and technical capacity of First Nations, and meet with the First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) to discuss DFO’s plan to implement these recommendations and create trust with title and rights holders.
This FOPO report is the latest in a long series of evidence that exposes the dysfunctional processes, rampant bias and exclusion of Indigenous knowledge and peer-reviewed evidence that has resulted in the chronic mismanagement of fisheries and infringement on First Nations title and rights. The reports recommendations speak to the abysmal state of science and decision-making, calling on DFO to conduct peer-reviewed, non-biased science and the Government of Canada to complete numerous independent audits and external reviews. We call on the Prime Minister to provide accountability and ensure that these numerous audits and reviews are completed in a timely fashion by external, independent, and qualified professionals and include analysis of DFO’s obligations under the UN Declaration.
The recent FOPO report exacerbates our concerns of DFO bias and the prioritization of industry above science and First Nations title and rights in the upcoming Fish Farm Transition Plan, which is scheduled to be released in June 2023. We call for this plan to be founded on First Nations input and involve title and rights holders in all aspects through co-management. The report outlines numerous issues around fish farm science and decision-making within DFO, including failure to consider the cumulative impacts and suppression of peer-reviewed evidence. It also restates the decade old recommendation of the Cohen Commission (2012) to remove the ministerial mandate to promote aquaculture due to its conflict with the protection of wild salmon. We have raised these concerns with the Department on multiple occasions, but DFO has continuously defended its internal scientific and decision-making processes, despite mounting evidence. We call on both the Prime Minister and Minister Murray to act urgently and with transparency to ensure that any Fish Farm Transition Plan is based on co-management with First Nations and all available scientific evidence and grounded in respect for First Nations title and rights. This process could be facilitated by a follow up examination by the Auditor General, building on the 2018 report on salmon farming that identified gaps and made recommendations for improvements.
The UN Declaration clearly states that First Nations have a right to conserve, protect and control the productive capacity of our territories and resources, and a spiritual relationship to our waters and marine resources that we must preserve for future generations. The FOPO report and previous evidence brought to your attention show that DFO’s processes exclude Indigenous peoples, in contravention of Canada’s legal obligations in the UN Declaration to recognize and protect these resources in partnership with First Nations. This exclusion of First Nations by DFO has contributed to the mismanagement of fisheries and the dire state of wild salmon.
In 2012, the Cohen Commission report attributed the decline of wild salmon to the impact of cumulative stressors, including mismanagement, and both the recent and 2022 State of Wild Salmon FOPO reports reiterated that the 11-year-old recommendations which have yet to be actioned. Since 2012, the state of wild salmon drastically worsened, with California and Oregon recently banning all salmon fishing in 2023 due to the near extinction of wild salmon stocks. As recent court cases have shown, cumulative impacts and chronic mismanagement by government serve as legal grounding for lawsuits to compensate for this long-term infringement and, in the case of wild salmon, potential extinguishment of First Nations title and rights. We call on the Prime Minister and Minister Murray to take urgent action to revitalize wild salmon, in partnership with title and rights holders, and end this chronic infringement that threatens First Nations’ food security, culture, economies, traditions, and future.
First Nations desire the preservation of our traditional ways of being rather than legal victories, as no amount can compensate for the devastating impacts caused by the collapse of wild Pacific salmon. To prevent the loss of wild salmon, First Nations must be at the table throughout all decision-making processes and Indigenous knowledge must be instrumental to the development of science and management plans. To support First Nations involvement in the management of wild salmon, direct funding to First Nations is necessary for all efforts to revitalize wild salmon, protect ecosystems, mitigate climate change impacts, manage resources, and plan for the future. This must also include consistent, long-term capacity funding, as the current models do not support meaningful consultation or participation. The current model which relies on DFO funded organizations for engagement and haphazard funding is not sufficient, is not inclusive of all First Nations and does not meet the requirements of the UN Declaration, especially on issues of such critical importance to all First Nations in BC.
We call on you both to meet with First Nations and jointly plan a path forward, using all tools at your disposal to address the issues raised in the recent FOPO report as well as the 2012 Cohen Commission report, the public letter from reputable scientists in January 2023, and the 2018 Auditor General report. The evidence is longstanding, abundant and clear – wild salmon cannot wait and may not survive another decade of mismanagement. The survival of wild salmon requires the meaningful participation of First Nations in every aspect of revitalization and protection, which is also legally required by the UN Declaration. We urge Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Murray to publicly outline a transparent and collaborative path forward to reform DFO and establish processes grounded in the precautionary principle, respect for First Nations title and rights, Indigenous knowledge, and rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and request a meeting with Minister Murray at her earliest convenience.
FIRST NATIONS LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
On behalf of the FIRST NATIONS SUMMIT
Cheryl Casimer Robert Phillips Hugh Braker
On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip Chief Don Tom Chief Marilyn Slett
On behalf of the BC ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS
Regional Chief Terry Teegee
First Nations in BC
First Nations Fisheries Council
Auditor General of Canada