An Indigenous-led group is criticizing what it considers to be the Department of Fisheries' “gross mismanagement” of aquaculture in British Columbia, as it calls for a separation of its regulatory and promotional responsibilities.

The First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance says the department is mired in conflicts of interest arising from its dual role, which the group's president, Bob Chamberlin, described as “marking your own homework.”

Chamberlin says the group wants the department to fulfill its core obligation to care for the environment and fisheries and implement a “truly independent” scientific body to help inform government decisions that affect marine life in B.C.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement that scientific integrity guides and shapes how it generates advice to inform decision-making.

“DFO continues to engage with our partners and stakeholders in developing a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in British Columbia's coastal waters by 2025,” said Kathryn Hallett, Relations Officer with the department's media.

“Consultations are ongoing with First Nations, the province of BC, industry, ENGOs and British Columbians.”

She said the goal is for the fishing and seafood industries to operate responsibly and sustainably in order to conserve the aquatic ecosystem for the future.

Chamberlin and the alliance have been vocal critics of federal policy on fisheries in B.C., including what he says is industry involvement in Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat reports on issues such as the risk of fish farming to wild salmon stocks.

Chamberlin says such participation in scientific reports results in a “predetermined” outcome that would benefit the industry.

“In conclusion, we need to fix the current (Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat) process, which is administered by DFO and intertwined with the department's management preferences, influences and aspirations,” Chamberlin said during a briefing in Ottawa.

“Based on our considerable professional experience, I reiterate that Canada must implement a truly independent scientific advisory body to directly advise decision-makers and recommend further research without being subject to vested interests within or outside the DFO.”

A statement from Brian Kingzett, executive director of BC Salmon Farmers, says his group agrees that science, not politics, should lead decisions about fisheries and aquaculture.

Canada's Scientific Advisory Secretariat is known internationally as a credible and impartial evaluator of science and its latest assessments concluded that salmon farming in BC poses a “minimal risk” to wild salmon, the release says.

“While some groups and individuals who are perennially opposed to salmon farming may believe that their views should lead Canadian science, we believe that the participation of all interested parties helps protect the rigorous and reliable science that Canada is known for and (which) Canada's (secretariat) provides,” Kingzett says.

It states that all farms in BC operate in agreement, negotiation or established partnerships with the First Nations on whose territories they exist.

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